I finally have a hospice patient again, after many many many months of the volunteer program being on pause. Every patient situation has been different over the time I’ve been involved with the program but this one is particularly tough, a woman greatly diminished by dementia and a recent stroke. She was a doctor, once upon a time. Now she cannot speak or interact, her body frozen and her eyes looking at something I cannot see. I go to a house to sit with her, while her adult son takes a break from caregiving. I have truly been at a loss for what to do during these hours, in her small dim sickbed area of the home. I was told she used to like nature shows so I play those on the always-on TV, occasionally chatting about what’s unfolding on screen. Last time, I read a chapter of The Wind in the Willows. No way to know what might she might find pleasant or at least restful, no way to know what kind of awareness she’s still capable of. Both times, though, her son came back at the end of the visit and said how happy his mom looked. Again, perhaps looking at something I couldn’t see — or experiencing something like relief for an uncomplicated time out. Either way, it was good to hear that he felt like he observed that.

I wish I could say that school volunteering was back on again as well, but that one feels like a long way off. School starts here in September (masks required for all) and their initial communications indicate that bringing in potentially germy parent volunteers is, understandably, a hell no for the foreseeable future.

I sure miss everything about helping out in the middle school library. I mean everything, from the kids to the sensory delight of the books themselves to the satisfying process of checking things in and out. I miss being connected to the school in a way that felt more involved, like it was a place I actually understood in some small way rather than a mysterious destination my kid never tells me about. (“So did anything interesting happen today?” “No.”)

So many things we all lost, and I know the smaller things pale in comparison to the loss of a paying job or a house or a life, but they are real losses all the same — compounded in shiteousness now by the fact that we could have them BACK, if only people would do the right goddamned thing.

Last Saturday night I was sleeping out under the stars, which sounds rather romantic or at least aspirational (Instagram photo caption: live ~ laugh ~ love ~ *stargaze*) but really it was a last-ditch effort to deal with being way the fuck too hot at night during a camping trip. Sure, let’s ditch the tent! Can’t sleep any worse than I have been!

As it turns out, it was in fact possible to sleep worse, in the sense that I slept not at all. However, if a person is going to have a night of unrelenting insomnia, being immersed in nature next to a river isn’t a half-bad place to be.

I mean, I did have to cycle several times through my own personal laundry list of outdoor-related anxieties before I could fully unclench. For instance, I was quite worried about bugs, particularly orifice-seeking spiders since we were directly on the ground. At dusk, there were a great number of bats swooping around and I kept imagining one borking its echolocation somehow and smashing directly into my face Fabio-style. The noise of the river was both pleasant and distracting: it was a continual white-noise rush and burble with inconsistent surges that I kept misidentifying as the sounds of something in the river rather than the river itself.

Also, we were stationed a few hundred yards from an actual bear fence protecting the coolers, so there was THAT.

As the night went on, I gradually stopped worrying about my surroundings conspiring to attack me and I was able to relax/surrender. The sky went from a collection of pinpricks to a riotous expanse of glitter and black, the kind of jaw-dropping starry night it’s impossible to see from town. I saw shooting stars leave blink-and-you-miss it tracers in dramatic zipping arches, I saw the bright busy movement of the ISS, I saw the Big Dipper slowly rotate until only the handle was left in view.

It was a staggeringly beautiful, endlessly long night. It felt like the kind of night where you’re supposed to come out the other end with some sort of grand epiphany, but mostly I was deeply grateful for two things: that I had experienced it, and that it was over.