From shelter into the storm

As I prepare to leap out into the unknown – more on that in a minute – I have to deal with the fundamental fear: Death.

We’re all dealing with that now, if we’re conscious: There is a beast abroad in the land, and it is killing people. That’s the fundamental awareness, isn’t it?

A friend told me about a 35 year old friend-of-a-friend who was fine, got COVID-19, and died. A friend in New York told me the same story, about an older neighbor, who was fine, had a cough, dropped dead in a hour. The stories are out there.

So is the denial: This isn’t different than the flu, most people have mild symptoms, you’re fine if you’re young, you’re fine if in good shape. (They used to say you’re fine if you’re not in New York, how’s that workin’ out for you, Florida?) One friend actually said to me, “It’s not very contagious” – that was about June 25, since when the infections have doubled.

But here’s the deal: All that is true, or likely true, or maybe not so true; but this is true as well: COVID-19 could kill you, or me. It probably won’t, but that underlying truth has to be addressed, too.

I’ve lived with a lot of death in my life. I’ve had a LOT of intimates die, usually well before their time. So I’m familiar with the possibility. And I’m OK with it, as so many of us say. But sometimes, that awareness of inevitable death is heightened, isn’t it? And now is one of those times. And as “fine” with the prospect of death as many of us are – and I can only speak for myself – I’m not ready. I’ve just begun to live. I LOVE my life. I have things I want to finish (if I die before I get all of music1967.com posted, I’m going to be PISSED).

I want to see my book published. I want to see how Election 2020 goes. I want to see my nieces and nephews turn into adults. I want to have a solid, permanent relationship. I want to have a garden again. I want to go to Tanzania and Kerala and Israel and Colombia and the Galapagos.

I know it’s all a crap shoot. I know I’m probably going to be fine. So are you. That’s always been true, no matter how “sheltered” we may be. Our odds are good, and then we die. Bam.

Leaving the familiar, leaving “safety,” as I will this coming week is exciting, unnerving, and fundamentally counterintuitive. Why would one go traveling now, especially in the Year of Shelter in Place?

But here’s my reality: I don’t have a place! That’s by choice, and in any case, even in this glorious, perfect place where I am right now – perched over the Columbia River, surrounded by green and family, with the people closest to me, in the place where I get my mail – I am anxious to MOVE.

I’ve been stationary for more than six months, which is a record for my current lifestyle. It’s been brilliant in so many ways, I’ve learned and accomplished a lot. I’ve even saved some money! I will always remember my Shelter in Place time on the Best Coast as a highlight of my life, at a time when so many were (and are) struggling.

But all good things must come to an end, to make room for other good things. We think we want to know what those “good things” might be – I have some ideas – but I have to acknowledge that I just don’t know what they are yet.

So, in a few days, I will begin to find out. I will leave “safety” and “security” and “shelter” and start moving around again. First, I go to New York, to my familiar “safety” and “security” there, and then…it will be time to get on a plane and start moving around again, to look for places to alight, for new people, new friends, and new adventures abroad. Where, I couldn’t quite tell you at this point. I have some ideas. I will head east, and then east again. Where I land, I don’t really know.

I do know that the country I leave behind is a mess. My home country, the “number one” USA – a phrase I grew up hearing not just at home, but all over the world – is the least safe place in the world in the time of COVID-19. That alone has been a real shock to me, and to my compatriots, and to the rest of the world. How could this happen? America used to be relatively immune to such disasters; the America of the past would have handled a pandemic; but the America we have now can’t seem to.

So there goes one more illusion of safety, eh?

I’m lucky to be able to leave that all behind for awhile. I’m lucky to have nothing holding me down. There are a lot of places I can’t go, but it’s not true, as an article being forwarded around last week said, “American Passport Are Worthless Now.” It’s not true. A number of countries are open, and others may become more open soon – assuming you’re not coming from the good ol’ USA. And passports from most countries aren’t very useful in a world where most borders are shut down.

That said, some countries are open, and I’m going to see how some of them are doing. I won’t travel the way I did before, perhaps, or perhaps I will. I rarely just rove around; I like to find a nice place and settle in. And I’ve got my eye on a few intriguing possibilities.

I will be “careful,” I will “stay safe” and all the things people always say to me when I head out. Above all, I will do what so many of my fellow Americans can’t seem to do: I will show respect to everyone I meet by wearing a mask, by socially-distancing as appropriate, and by learning to “safely” negotiate this new reality.

But I’m done sheltering in place, I’m done hiding out. It’s just not me. My backpack is packed, my ticket is booked, and my friends await me. I’ve headed out on many trips in my lifetime, but this one feels the most fraught, the most uncertain – and the most uniquely imperative.

I have no idea what awaits me, or where I will land. I don’t know how I will die, and neither do you. But I intend to keep living how as I like, while I can.

I can’t wait to begin.

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Thank you for checking out my blog - it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I am working on projects regarding music history, Japanese culture and my songwriting.

- A week-by-week music history website, music1967.com
- An upcoming book on Japanese culture, Japan from Anime to Zen
- A YouTube channel, featuring random songs and thoughts for the pandemic
- Original music on Spotify, with links to Patreon and Amazon 

David Watts Barton

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