For a period in 2013-14, I lost my sense of time and place. There had been too much travel. That spring, I’d happily but hectically gone to post-war Northern Uganda to do six weeks of fieldwork for my master’s thesis. It was one of the calmest places I’d ever been, characterized by a feeling of new in-betweenness, of being after something terrible but before something possible, with hotels that had once housed UN peacekeepers but now housed NGO workers. I settled into it, writing e-mails about driving north to Gulu, listening to 90s classics, buying grilled bananas, passing the sign to Juba. I wrote about how the Italian NGO workers took me under their wing and we ate pizza and French toast at Samuele’s restaurant, how I made field visits with Michael and his team to do my interviews and we ate homemade cassava and stew near Opit and Michael called me “a woman of all seasons.” I wrote about interviewing the boy who had returned to primary school after having been abducted, whose classmates had called him “grandfather” because of his greater size and age, and how a teacher of 37 years served me tea and told me I was a good researcher, causing me to beam.

It seems brutal, unfair, and even shameful, that this place that held horror for so many became, for me, peaceful and romantic, but it did. It was a unique snapshot in time; I didn’t know it then, but it was perfect.

By May, I was back in Denver for a few weeks, before moving out of my apartment and driving with my dad to Mississippi, before going to Florida for a two-month intensive language program. I think it was around then that my time/place sense started to disintegrate. My movement became punctuated and disrupted. I was back in Oxford sometime that summer for an MRI, and in August, back for the month, before flying to Zanzibar to continue my language program. I planned to be there through December, but by the end of September, I was back in the U.S. for Dad’s expected, unexpected funeral. Throughout October, I went to Louisiana and California in attempts to carve out some respite and escape from the local grocery stores and coffee shops where people smiled at me, sadly, knowingly, annoyingly.

The emotional landscape changed dramatically over this period as well. Whereas phone calls with Dad were one of the steady, reliable factors of my Uganda trip, his mental health had deteriorated so severely by August that I had walled myself from him in a desperate attempt to preserve our relationship, choreographing my movements so that we were rarely alone in the house. I struggled to find places to be. My friends weren’t around—one was in France, another in Kenya, another there physically but far away emotionally. Denver fell in between those two points in time: both happy moments—watching Dad amuse a toddler in a pizza restaurant—and a later panic attack brought on by our unfinished packing, Dad clinging to me in desperate fear. That night, I had my first moment of pause, of thinking, like Miss Clavel, that something was not right.

I was grateful that Dad had died when he did, in the fall, which I thought of as a season of quiet, peaceful death, but this peace was punctuated by my return to too-hot Zanzibar, where there was too little shade, and where my one-year-old host brother frequently broke into my room and grabbed whatever he could get his hands on and put into his mouth, waddling around, shrieking, “Dawa, dawa!,” or medicine, medicine! in reference to the fact that so many of my possessions were, in fact, dawa.

This back and forth nonsense continued for the next year or so—Mississippi, Colorado, Kenya, Colorado, Alaska, until I’d lost my sense of what year it was, much less what continent I was on.

Coronavirus times remind me of this dizziness—where am I, what day is it, what am I wearing, when did I last see you? (I’m in Germany, it’s Monday, I’m wearing a cotton dress with stripes, I haven’t seen you in years).

Last Wednesday, my partner and I went on a bike ride. It took us through several stretches of rolling farmland, over an apocalyptic, modern bridge, past a post-post-modern-looking sculpture garden, bringing relief in its sense of place, in its sense of, “Oh, there are rolling farms here; oh, there is an eccentric sculpture garden; oh, there is a military base: I must not be in Kansas anymore.” For an hour or so, I felt a little less trapped. This little-window-of-freedom feeling set like the sun on the rest of our evening, casting a warm, golden light over our ordinary rituals: soup-stirring; teeth-brushing; dish-washing.

Recognizing the sense of entrapment that characterizes coronavirus times, where our freedom of movement is literally limited, I have been thinking about the sacred, imaginative ways our brains can open up to let us out. I think about Ignatian Imagination whereby, in the tradition of St. Ignatius, one imagines themselves into a Biblical passage and, by using all of the senses, one can encounter a new understanding of it. I think of Teresa of Avila’s notion of the Interior Castle as a metaphor for the expansiveness of spiritual formation. (I credit Harry Potter and the Sacred Text for introducing me to both of these traditions.)

At the same time, I think about an engrossing lecture I heard in 2007 from a musicology professor at LSU on Hildegard von Bingen, about how she had visions of something beyond her physical world and pushed the Abbot to allow her to move out from under his authority to establish a more independent convent until he relented. I treasure this story of a visionary woman’s expansion; I want my own convent, damnit, whatever that means.

I write about my dad so much that I want to make fun of myself, but I guess it makes sense. My relationship with Dad and experience of losing him is the most emotionally Big thing that has ever happened to me to the point that I’d frankly like to introduce myself as “Sarah Gates whose dad died in 2013,” or have t-shirts made. It is proportionally so huge in relation to everything else I’ve experienced that it helps throw light on knowledge that I might not otherwise see.

It was fall 2015 when this experience helped me take meditation seriously for the first time. I was living in DC, in between an internship and a job that I didn’t yet know existed, feeling uncertain, a little depressed, and a little flailing. In the context of a church retreat, and in response to a meditative prompt, I found myself lying on a carpeted floor, imagining hanging out with Dad. I can’t tell you now what the prompt was, only that in my response to it, I knew I had caught on to something really special, that I could be with Dad whenever I wanted. I had suspected this before—by reading a short story I’d written in college, or by lingering in the feeling I had after reading certain e-mails—but I knew it then as fact. The relationship between me and Dad was always there, unbound to time and space, and unbound to the time and space of his death. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was (and trying to would ruin it) or how I knew exactly what it was, but I just knew it.

Despite having been made a believer in meditation, I have hardly yet become a practitioner of it. Coronavirus times feel especially unmade for any kind of deep focus or calm. But mostly, I feel afraid of it, and I can’t really tell you why, except that it seems easier to stay in a more superficial, transitory place, where I watch sitcoms and check my e-mail.

But isn’t it amazing that we can go anywhere anytime we want? Isn’t it amazing that our souls house so many homes?