In Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert writes of a time when she and her Brazilian fiancé Felipe were traveling in Vietnam. They had spent months in southeastern Asia, awaiting word from the Department of Homeland Security that they could return to the US and get married. On this particular day, they had been riding a rickety hot bus for seven hours and tensions between them were running high. Suddenly Felipe turned to Gilbert, “Let’s be careful right now, okay” he said to her.

This was a signal between them that reminded them to take care not to say something that they might regret later. This code acknowledged the challenges and emotional strain that they were under at that moment and nudged them not to succumb to petty words and harsh judgments. “Let’s be careful right now, okay,” might very well translate to: “I need to remember that I love you a lot because right now I am not being my best self.”

I think these are words we might all take to heart in these times. Tensions are running high everywhere; we are exhausted and staring a down a pandemic that seems to never end. We are tired of masks and isolation, but still are quick to condemn those not wearing a mask or complying with social distancing at the post office or the grocery store. Depending upon the part of the country we live in, we are drinking different brands of Kool-Aid concerning Covid protocols and safety measures, which is only increasing a feeling of division among us. We have all heard that old wisdom: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” and yet it is so easy to forget this. Indeed, we need to be very, very careful right now.

Thanks to this latest surge of the plague (as I am now calling it), Matt and I are back to a sort of self-imposed shutdown. We work, but little else. No dinners with the parents, no meetings in coffeehouses. We don’t eat in restaurants; I take walks with friends, but no more hugging. I haven’t seen anyone inside without a mask since Christmas. Those almost carefree holidays already seem a long time ago.

I am tired of teaching piano lessons or attending rehearsals with a N95 mask. I am tired of keeping every window and door in the house open during my teaching hours (a drafty house is a healthy house, they say. Yes, but I’m freezing.). I’m tired of feeling more like a cop directing traffic than a music teacher during performance classes (Over here. No, in that chair. No, one row back. No, scoot over three seats, kid.). I’m tired of the near-daily message from a parent with a Covid scenario that I must decipher and make a decision about (Example: If Little Jack’s dad—or sister, or brother, or mother—has Covid, but is isolating in one room and everyone in the house is vaccinated and showing no symptoms, can Jack come to piano lessons tomorrow?). None of my degrees prepared me for making these kinds of tough calls. I feel like I’m walking on a high wire just waiting for the inevitable fall.

I know, I know. I should be thankful to be teaching piano lessons and attending rehearsals again in person. I should be grateful for a house that allows so much ventilation. I should rejoice in the fact that we can hold performance classes in real time and not on Zoom (God help us!). I should be counting my blessing that the parents in my studio communicate well and take seriously Covid safety measures. I am grateful for takeout, and for friends who walk. I know I am fortunate to live in a state that enforces masking mandates and, more importantly, that people respect them.

I am thankful. Most days. But it is starting to feel a little like telling a resident of London during the Blitz: “Hey! There were no bombings in your neighborhood last night! Stop complaining!” This is not the life standard I want to be working under.

Which is probably why, underneath it all, I feel a nagging irritation threatening to explode into view. I have little patience for the minor ordinary annoyances that crop up every single day. The person living inside my head is critical and mean and cranky and weepy and I can’t make her shut up. I need to be very, very careful right now.

These days, being careful means being very faithful about my practices on and off the piano bench. It means showing up to swim my laps and sit on my meditation cushion. It means breathing deeply and pausing before I have a chance to snap over small unimportant inconveniences. It means not putting myself—and by extension those I may meet—in Covid-risky situations. It means taking care to tend my garden and order my world: clearing out leaves from the flower beds and doing my laundry before I run out of socks. It means finding five minutes of good attention to the task in front of me. And then finding more five minutes. And five minutes yet again until I have tricked myself into a day of meaningful practices, pushing my little rocks up the hill one at a time. It means protecting silence and space in my days, not just filling them with music and conversation. It means counting the reasons to be grateful as I fall asleep at night, and holding close the man and the two cats with whom I am lucky enough to share my bed and drafty home. It means working towards the future I want, not avoiding the one I have grown tired of. It means making plans: a possible trip to London in June, dinner with friends next month, a concert next week, knowing that the rug could be pulled out from us at any time.

Last week a prominent member of the New Mexico musical community died, suddenly and unexpectedly. Matt and I were not close friends with Eric, but we know the family well, and have always respected his good work in our professional circles. Eric’s death was not our personal loss, but we have been profoundly shaken nonetheless. It is a reminder—as if we needed another one these days—that life is fragile and fleeting. Make plans, but hold them lightly. Nothing is a guarantee.

Let’s be careful right now, okay, friends? So very, very careful with one another.

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