Life in the time of Coronavirus
Lessons Learned from Living with a River
This is the fourteenth season of hosting largely outdoor weddings at Hidden River Events and, as the owner of Hidden River, I think the lessons of the Swannanoa River are something we could all benefit from right now.
I had never lived close to a river until I began Hidden River thirteen years ago. I cannot adequately describe the peace I feel just standing next to the river every day. Some days it is a rushing torrent, other days a gentle flow, in droughts it is barely a trickle, and in floods something I just stand back and respect. A river is a living being and, as such, it is beyond the ability of any human to control, no matter what technology we bring to the river. Dams break, solutions are temporary, and we learn that trying to control is, well, ridiculous. Despite our vulnerability, the river keeps on keeping on, carving out these Blue Ridge Mountains to make this amazing valley and the surrounding mountains that are older than the Himalayas. I remember feeling similarly as soon as the umbilical cord was cut when I birthed my first child. Absolute awe and vulnerability. That was the last second I could live life for my daughter. From that point onward, she became a force with which to be reckoned. She is a river.
LIFE. It is huge. And slowly we get seduced into thinking it is a lot smaller than it is. We think things that are good today could never change and situations that are painful will never go away. But–like the river that is as constant as it is changing–life, people, animals, experiences, are always out of our control. Control is an illusion to which we, sometimes quite desperately, cling. But living with the Swannanoa River, having a child, loving and losing, have all taught me that I am in for a wild ride. A wild ride called life.
Right now, this is truly a wild ride and what is different about it, at least in our lifetimes, is that the whole earth is on this ride together. The virus does not choose nationalities, religions, genders. It just does what it does. I know that a lot of people feel really helpless right now. I feel it in regard to my 93 year old mom. She’s suffering from dementia and she has been on lockdown in her nursing home for two weeks, with no visitors allowed and no real ability to understand exactly what is going on. It hurts not to know how she is, and we are just happy that the phone does not ring. No news is good news.
So, as a person whose life work is about helping peoples’ dreams come true and whose name has been, for 59 years now, “Jeanne,” it is difficult to feel limited in my ability to make dreams come true. But, you know what? I actually feel hopeful right now.
- We’re all experiencing the same life lesson on a global scale and one of the virtues that will result, if we pay attention, is humility. We could use more humility in the world, don’t you think?
- We can make a huge difference right now, even if we are not on the front lines of fighting the pandemic. Whoever thought that staying home and watching Netflix would be a major contribution to “fighting a war”?
- We are forced to just stop, just “be,” and allow the earth to rest. Swans are coming back to the canals of Venice. Air quality is improving in cities and nations that are slowing down. We can take more time to notice things around us when we are not running to and from. As Thich Nhat Hahn says in Silence: “If you can be here, if you can be free, then you can be happy right here and right now. You don’t have to run anymore.”
- For engaged couples, this slowing down, even halting some of your “planning,” is probably a good thing. Our culture so emphasizes the whole “drama” of weddings that we sadly do not spend too much time, in the months prior to our weddings, thinking about the things that really matter in life. Now is your chance. Sit with your partner and talk. Ask each other about fear, learn new strategies for stress management together, read to each other, let time stop for just a moment and allow this moment to be as if you have been married already for 50 years. Just think about it: your life–if you are blessed to live a long time–will be SO FULL. Full of pleasure, pain, fear, hope, silliness and you–you two who are getting married–get to go through it together. Hold the hand of your beloved as if you are holding the hand of a love that has blossomed, wilted, gone dormant, and bloomed again. You will go through so many cycles of life together. This is just one of many.
For me, right now I am fine. I miss my daughter who is in London. I worry about my mom. I feel for the people whose jobs put them daily at risk and wear them out. I worry about the economy. But I have made a decision. I can be here for others. I can write letters and send messages to people I know who are struggling. I can play the piano again. For the business, I can be present to the land and the animals. Some of our employees have moved into the on site houses so we can care for the land and the horses during this “nuptial hiatus.” We mulch and plant and mow and brush and feed, meditating on loving kindness, continuing to infuse this land with love so when it is time for you to return or to visit for the first time, this valley will be ready for you. I am giving face time tours instead of in person tours and am writing couples who are hopeful and doing my best to comfort those who are worried. We even produced a Youtube educational video for children that I will share with you soon, kind of a Mr.-Rogers-hits-the-farm idea that some of us suddenly had, a truly new project. We did our first segment on horses. Why not take the time we have and use it well? Why not live like this every day, virus or not?
Please, if this blog post finds you feeling sad or scared or worried or isolated, remember: we are not alone and we do not live in darkness. Use what strength and time you have to remind everyone in your circle of this truth. The first time the river flooded here, I was nearly destroyed. My gardens were washed away, the $2000 of mulch I had just installed the day before vanished, bridges were destroyed and a good mass of land where couples used to wed just eaten away, simply gone in a matter of hours. I sat in a pile of sticks and logs and trash and just started picking it apart so we could clean up the mess. It was then that I realized: What do we do? We pick up and start again. We find resources in ourselves that we never knew we had. We pick up our heads and look at the river, the same river, differently than we did the day before and we find new places to stand and experience its beauty and sometimes even its terror.
As another one of my favorite authors put it:
Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Please know that Grace and I, especially, are here for our couples. We are doing what we can to accommodate peoples’ needs. I have been amazed at how kind and hopeful most people have been, how willing to work together to find a solution that works for themselves, that helps the business remain sustainable, and that benefits other couples who, hopefully, will not be affected by this current challenge. People are thinking big, looking beyond their own experiences and seeing that the solutions we find today have to benefit the whole for now and for tomorrow. It is actually really a lovely thing to behold. Thank you for being the amazing couples you are and for finding this meandering river, this broad valley, and for putting a little bit of your love into this place.
Jeanne Sommer, Owner/Director
We Specialize in All-Inclusive
At first, we thought all-inclusive meant just having all the infrastructure ready to go for the couple, so what looks like such a simply beautiful, largely outdoor wedding could be as clean and simple as the lines of the tent. There should be no hassles about getting in all the infrastructure and having it ready for your wedding. We did not want to witness a rental truck showing up at the last minute and a mom or bridesmaid, or the couple themselves, setting up chairs and tables–even mowing the yard–on the morning of the wedding. These were all things Jeanne witnessed repeatedly over the years. No wonder people were exhausted before their wedding even began…