Like a lemon tree in the frost

Like a lemon tree in the frost

He’s scheduled to get his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Saturday and is counting down the days like a kid waiting for a school trip – or as a kid once would have waited, actually, as we must always use the past tense when referring to life before the pandemic.

Our telephone conversations are invariably centered on the virus that is keeping us apart: “I am so anxious for your turn to come, so you can also get the vaccine and we can finally be free, my dear! Do you think you might be able to make it over for a few days at Easter? I really hope so, but don’t worry if you can’t; I’ll be fine. It will pass and we will see each other again in the summer.”

This is my father, banishing mine and my sister’s fears from his tiny village on an island in the eastern Aegean. I haven’t seen him since August. We haven’t hugged since last March, when the pandemic came to Greece. “This too shall pass,” he says again and again. He believes it, too, probably because, at the age of 82, his shoulders have carried much heavier woes and grief than the pandemic: being left an orphan, poverty, losing his wife and his brother. “What’s the coronavirus? It should be frightened of me, not I of it,” he says, laughing.

Over the past few months, I have gotten into the habit of observing the elderly lady living in the rooftop apartment in the building across the street. Her entire world has shrunk down to her veranda. She basks in the sun when the weather permits it, paces back and forth, and watches the people below from the railing, but mainly she tends to her potted garden. I watch her as she dotes on her angelicas, lavender, viburnums and geraniums and wonder whether she speaks to them too.

She also has a lemon tree, laden with fruit. I have never seen so many lemons on such a small tree. She must be so proud of it. She wrapped it in plastic recently to protect it from the frost and ventured out onto the balcony every so often despite the chill to check on it and make sure it was still protected.

A long winter still lies ahead of us – and I don’t mean that in terms of days or seasons – as the pandemic continues to test our strength. And until the frost of illnesses passes, let us take a page out of my neighbor’s book, wrapping the people we love and those around us in a protective cloak of understanding, tenderness and empathy. Let us be there for each other, keeping out the cold.

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