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Covid seems to have a mind of its own—a stripping that flattens initiative, that dissects energy into unseemly burps, that short-shifts plans into uselessness, and impales spirits upon re-runs. Nothing seems to work the way it used to. Patience thins like threadbare overcoats on city pigeons perched upon window ledges.

A bleary scenario, to be sure, but not unlike November’s stripping, also in process.

No longer do winds tickle leaves from branches; they rip them asunder, strewing bits onto gables, creek beds, and wooded paths. Swirls of yellowish-browns skitter along sidewalks, bed down in gutters, spike in woody hedges, mass atop listless perennials. A solitary flame-tree cackles at this despoliation, until its own during the next windstorm.

Juvenile squirrels frisk around tree trunks, then gawk, stunned. Canadian geese meddle about like staid sergeants on a murder case. Swarms of blackbirds swoop and caw, echoing distress. Our world sighs in muted grays and browns as death stalks in between the next breath.

There is something to learn here if we are willing. It’s about acceptance of what is, including the cyclical nature of change. True, Covid has bruised every institution, modified communication, left a swath of the ill and dying upon our planet, and altered esteemed values—substantial losses, admittedly. But whoever said that we were more than human? That suffering wasn’t wrapped within everyone’s birthright?

Wounded as we are, hushness envelops us with the grace of waiting for what we know not: There will be some form of greening, if we are still and watchful.

But the languages of men have become empty

  Palaces

Where the winds blow in every room.

Strange spirits sing in them.

This poetic excerpt taken from The Legend of the Tower (1957) by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton evidences his dismay with what passed as communication in his time: a brokenness that replicates the Genesis story of another tower—that of Babel.

Heinous pride fired the builders of both towers, intent upon becoming godlike, only to implode and disintegrate into bleak ruins where nothing survives. In our times, their repercussions still rankle. In place of builders using brick and bitumen,

spin-doctors use words to manipulate denizens of planet Earth: Words shimmy between half-truths, words pale with abuse, words thin with repetition, words spin pretenses, words traipse in circles, and words conceal trickery. Self-honesty appears illusory, outdated.

Only within the ambiance of silence can a word’s significance be felt and experienced in its abundant richness. Yet, not many cultivate this precious inwardness from which teems abundant life. White noise from whatever source appears to be the norm.

But not to despair—Merton’s The Legend of the Tower contains a second part devoted to rebuilding the City of God. The Prophet proclaims:

It will be a perfect city…built by the thought and the silence and the wisdom and the power of God…You and I are the stones in the wall of the city. Let us run to find our places. Though we may run in the dark, our destiny is full of glory.

At 7:25 A.M., I awoke to this jarring dream:

It is early morning. I’m barefoot and wear a hospital gown on an indigent women’s 12-bed ward. A radio plays. Other patients receive help with their daily care. On my way to the bathroom, I feel wetness between my legs. I’m hemorrhaging; pools of blood splatter the floor. Too weak to clean it up or ask for help, I continue to the bathroom. Later, I notice someone had mopped up the blood. Hemorrhaging occurs later in the day, but I vaguely remember it. That evening, the head nurse restores my ring of belonging, but instead of it being round, she presents me with a square one.

I still shudder with the implications of this dream. I’m alone, impoverished, in dire straights in the hands of my caregivers. Excessive hemorrhaging has enervated me and seems to be an ongoing problem. No longer can I tend to most of my needs.I see no way out of this morass. Nor does death seem imminent—just worsening of my symptoms.

The number twelve as in 12-bed ward suggests a fullness, a complementarity that corresponds to twelve months of the year, to the twelve apostles, and to the twelve Knights of the Round Table, and other groupings of twelve. In the dream 12 indigent women, I among them, occupy the ward: their circumstances could not be more wretched.

To keep her charges compliant within the rules and regulations, the head nurse, the sole authority on the ward, uses cheap trinkets—No matter that I preferred the round ring that I’d been given, when admitted to the ward, to the ill-fitting square one I placed on my finger.

As Monster Passivity licks its jowls and tears into what remains of my afflicted body, I cry out for help. It will come.

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