This week the weather shifted to perfection in pure irony against a deep deep blue sky and warm breeze swirling around our home. We wait and watch sheltering within. But, as I have been doing almost daily for these nine weeks, I did venture out on a late afternoon walk to see what the heron was up to. This route to the lake takes me past forest and field with pockets of houses clustered here and there. Inspired by an assignment my colleague and favorite art teacher is doing with students, I looked for the abandoned places, for their #abandonedbeauty. It does not take long to find such treasures in a rural area, where time alters material indiscriminately. The weathered, rusted or worn is found everywhere, and as I spy it, metaphor shuttered into my soul and heart: I too break down on the daily.
There is a fluttering of loss that overtakes me at different moments. Like when I’m talking to my seniors, and they wonder if all the decisions they made through the winter on college and packet will stand stronger than COVID-19. They wonder about everything that should come after tomorrow.
As a person who loves to travel clear across the country, chasing the setting sun, to cheer with family and friends, this uncertain space feels like an empty hole to me too. Uncertainly creeps all sulky into my mood regardless of how I push it away. The sinking economic structures, a dire mess that headlines every media, with even more fear plaguing us continuously, I wonder how to keep my head up, my eyes lifted, and my spirit from sinking below the surface. How do structures stand even after their usefulness has expired? Does decay have value? Will we ever return to what we were? Questions drive my steps.
I use memory of happy days to fill the long hours. Filling my suitcase with summer shifts for 10 days in the south of France with three girlfriends to drink pink wine and stand before great art and dive into the Mediterranean. Shepherding two dozen students into our flight to Italy with all the excitement of Florence and Venice ahead and none of us able to sleep. Hopping a ferry with my wife journeying to visit my great aunt and her 27 immediate family for the 4th of July. In the salon for an extravagant up-do before a night at the Metropolitan Opera with Renee Fleming on stage. Pedaling my bike on a path that runs along side a river and watching light bounce like diamonds. Endless joys. These memories are a comfy train as I put one foot in front of the other. Walking past relics wondering how to exist in this now.
The history books are filled with those who survived brutal wars, the Great Depression, battles with insidious cancer or a tangled abusive marriage; they mounted those obstacles with triumph. Their story shows innovation and perseverance, an abundance of hope and courage, and certainly good fortune too, yet even with all the good fortune I possess I fall flat most every day for some important moment. Other times when I wish I could accept this little respite, see it for just that, instead of another cross to carry. Looking for abandoned beauty brought me out of myself for a few breaths as I stroll through my hood. There is something right here, something like an adventure, something like a journey, only this one is on my own two feet. Surrounded by brilliant blue and now green and yellow I stop to see only this.
As I get into bed at the end of the day, I like to wrap everything up with a string and bring it to a sweet end, but during these weeks worry creeps back before dawn. I am not sure how our one world will resolve this sweeping crisis; I do my best to avoid the media that slants us into vacillating emotions of despair or anger and focus on supporting my students through their struggles. This task helps. Mostly. Today I stay outside a bit longer, looking through the abandoned beauty to find the purpose in mine.