The Perfect Person for the Pandemic

Sheila Kohler​

My husband has often told me how much he loves the life of the big city: the hustle and bustle; the mingling of different people from different places; the different languages, religions, races. We have always enjoyed the cultural life the city has made possible: music, art galleries, conferences. My husband has always declared, when I suggested a move to the country, or when I pointed out the joys of nature, that he would rather die than leave the city.

Banished now to the country because of the pandemic, far from the city we love, and so unexpectedly, this busy man, a doctor who has all his life worked so hard, running back and forth from his private patients to ill people in the hospital, to medical students, and on to his own children and in later years to his grandchildren, he now finds himself surrounded solely by trees and the complete quiet of the country life (and me). Far from the children, friends, the symphony I, a writer, who surely should profit from this solitude mourn, but he seems to have come alive. He has taken all this leisure time in his stride, indeed, he is grateful for the time to read, to walk, to look at the sky.

For the first time in his life, or so it seems to me, he speaks of the nature around us with joy: the sea, the stars, the sound of the rain in the night. He has always quoted the romantic poets to me: Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth, but now he seems to be living the words of the poets.He could almost, it seems, be a poet  himself, such are the depths of his eloquence some days.

"The winds come to me from the fields of sleep

And all the earth is gay

Land and sea give themselves to jollity."

He does see his patients, but comfortably dressed from the waist down in blue jeans and slippers and over zoom and only for a few hours a week. He talks to his children over the phone or sitting out on the terrace on a Saturday in the sunshine. Masked, he goes sailing with a friend in a small wooden boat.

The solitude which has always been part of my life as a writer,  now forced upon me,  hangs heavy on my shoulders--the place is too quiet-- but he seems to walk with a light step, attending to the house, the roof, the lawn. He cooks and scrubs the pots. He replaces light bulbs. He hums out of tune. 

Life, it seems, is full of strange surprises,  and sometimes adversity brings revelations. Those we would never believe could profit from isolation and solitude are better off than those we might have expected to rise to the occasion with fortitude. I can only be thankful for each day given to both of us and for inspiration from his courage. 

Sheila Kohler’s  most recent book is Open Secrets, published by Penguin.