Living in Suspended Animation


“amber mosquito” by Oregon State University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

When I was very young, perhaps 11 years old, I went on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. We saw all kinds of exciting wonders there, and I was enthralled.

But the exhibit that stuck in my mind all those years ago was a collection of ancient insects trapped in golden drops of amber.

I remember standing in front of the glass case, looking at the tiny, delicate wings of particularly beautiful little insect. Perfectly preserved and saved in time for us to examine tens of thousands of years after it had been caught.

I tried to imagine what it had been like for that little creature, moving through its everyday life, searching for food. Or simply enjoying a sunny moment on a tree branch. I pictured it sitting still, for just a tiny speck of time, not aware that a drop of tree sap was poised to drop from the branch right above it. Perhaps unaware as that drop first reached its head, still thinking of food or safety or procreation. And then, in the time it took for that tiny being to take a breath, it was encased in sticky sap. Unable to move forward or back, unable to escape.

Left to simply wait as the sap cooled, hardened, aged, turned into the gleaming jewel of amber that a wide eyed little girl was now examining.

For years after that trip, I wondered about that little winged insect. “What if the amber could melt away, and he could be alive again?”

What if.

I thought about that amber the other night, as I stood on my deck, looking out into the silent woods around me. Could something that was held in suspended animation, one wing lifted for flight, ever come back to the life it had known before?

I have now been inside my own house, except for my daily solitary dog walks, for 23 days. I am in suspended animation, like nearly every other human on this little blue gem of a planet.

I didn’t see it coming. Not until it was too late. On the last day that my grandchildren were here with me while their mom was at work, I had no idea that when I sent them home I would not see them again for weeks. I had no idea that we would first be told not to work, then not to socialize, and finally not to leave our homes.

The new coronavirus is our drop of sap. While we were all thinking about our next meal, our work deadlines, or our upcoming social events, it hung there above our heads. It wasn’t until it had dropped down onto us and encased us in its sticky depths that we realized we were caught.

Caught like that ancient fly, unable to escape, unable to save ourselves or those we love.

We are living in a state of suspended animation. All we can do is hope, and pray and trust in something bigger than ourselves.

All we can do is hope that this time the drop of amber will somehow melt, and we will all be free once again to embrace our boring, mundane, gloriously joyful lives.