The Ice Flows: Exploring Purpose During Isolation

Back in mid-March, as the iceberg that is the COVID-19 pandemic just began to reveal itself here, I walked down to the Ottawa River. Broken ice flowed rapidly under the bridge beneath me. My ears filled with the excitement of geese, six couples paired off and grooming each other—early-birds who would surely be first to nest. A small island was white with gulls jockeying for positions.

While I’d been feeling that the “whole world” was suspended, the natural world was actually in full swing. The seasons were changing and the animals were preparing as they would for any other Spring. Everything is fine in our world, the ice and geese and gulls seemed to want me to know.

The Earth is telling me it will be fine without me, I thought. It would be better off without humans on it, in fact. A young man in a grey toque walked past me in a safe arc, tears on his face. He could have been crying about anything, but in that moment, I believed he must be contemplating our potential demise. Humans are in a perpetual battle to protect ourselves from each other, after all, and our presence here does more damage than good.

Yet rather than discourage me, these thoughts lit me up with joy.

Even a stranger’s tears didn’t change the sense of lightness I felt. Why do I feel happy? I wondered. The answer came: Because I still want to be here; I still want to be alive.

At the age of 15, I wanted to die. Well into adulthood, I thought everyone seriously contemplated death and suicide, until a counselor told me it was not normal. What a revelation that was, to think a person could live without such dark thoughts.

And now, on this crisp, social-distanced walk in nature, I experienced a new revelation: a certainty that I want to be here, despite not knowing precisely why. There’s a temptation to see this pandemic and its seemingly endless fallout through a lens of hopeless despair, yet I don’t find myself going there. Instead, I’m doubling down on my word of the year, “Purpose”.

When I choose a word for the year, I don’t do it with a plan—the word sort of presents itself to me and I make an agreement with myself to undertake a 12-month meditation on it. “Purpose” is filling pandemic-isolation’s great swaths of time and quietude with a focus on things that have called to me for many years, but which I have not tended to because of busy-ness.

After the first two weeks of low-grade Coronavirus-anxiety passed, it became easier to relax into the exploration of “Purpose”. It’s led to reading more than I have in decades, writing more, and finally following through on a long-held dream to apply to MFA programs.

We’re only five weeks into the Coronavirus situation here at the time of this writing, with months likely to go. A lot could change; anything could happen in the world and in my psyche. I think most of us now know that the world is going to look very different on the other side of this pandemic. For me, I hope that’s true. I hope it will be different not because of things outside of my control, but because of the quality time I’m spending, right now, getting to know a new companion, “Purpose”.


Progressive Tense Cards (13)


4 thoughts on “The Ice Flows: Exploring Purpose During Isolation

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  1. Hi Maria, I have a lot of appreciation for the clarity and succinctness of your writing Maria, especially as it puts into words what I am doing. My word is “change”, knowing that the pandemic is bringing a shitload of that for everyone whether they asked for it or not.

    I too am using this situation as a process of honouring the threat of the virus while using it as an opportunity for personal change and writing a revised version of my present.

    Like you I live alone, and I have a tendency towards introversion and self reflection, spending a lot of time with myself but, I certainly miss the social side of my life. I’ve re-introduced regular meditation into my morning routine and look at this self- isolation time as a kind of silent retreat (often with a background of spa type of music, calming and serene.

    Thank you for your piece. And I look forward to hearing more about your developments.

    hUgs, Jack ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jack! Love you! Some days are so much easier than others. Maybe that’s part of the gift/curse: take nothing for granted and sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised. xoxo


  2. HI Maria,
    I’ve re-read this post at least 3 times, Today I clicked the link to go back to re-read about choosing a word for a year. I had never explored my writing-purpose, but I’ve known since I started writing in my 50’s that my purpose was to try to figure out What’s-going-on? I like your idea to choose a word a year to consider. I shall consider ABSURD – prompted by your signature “Lover of the Absurd”; also because reading your post reminded me of Finca Luna friendships and then of a prompt response poem I wrote there which incorporates ABSURD –
    FlashPoem from a prompt Quote at Centauri Feb. 2020
    Rainer Maria Rilke’s Advice to Poets “Stop Making Sense!”

    Sara said,

    “There are trees that walk.”


    “Very slowly.”

    “To go Where?
    And Why?
    And what about the Roots? …
    It makes no Sense.”

    “It’s Poetry.”

    ** Oops – thought it incorporated the word Absurd. It ought to have done, but I tried tweaking the stanza to fit absurd in. Absurd fits for the content, but doesn’t fit into the flow. A writerrly problem that benefits a consideration of meaning. Thanks for your inspirational posts. I won’t commit to Absurd for a year, but I have it in mind thanks to you I’ll see where it goes, Wish you well. Great to have the river walk to go to breath green and trees – and soon I hope the Mill Street Brew Pub patio
    P.S. Hi Jack if you look in

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your comments, Deirdre! What wonderful connections you make, and wonderful how you are able to follow the path of your own stream of consciousness. It’s so real.

      Your poem is fantastic and you can give it the title, “Absurd” – problem solved in a writerly way, n’est pas?


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