And just when we thought life was a given a never ending treadmill of home to work and back again with no reprieve COVID 19 showed up and slammed the door in our face. No questions asked just shut tight with whatever we might face all alone without our gyms and theaters and courts and spectacular spectaulars. Holy shit peeps, this got real zero to sixty, and somehow we’re all still flying high like trapeze artists. I don’t know about you, but I feel as if I am swinging without a net, just one second to the next, all unchartered, all frightening, all unknown, and yet, we are all doing it with finesse. Huge shout out to my teacher buddies and administrators, the special educators and para educators, and everyone else moving the cogs in the school system round and round and let’s not forget the scores of students sitting alone in their bedrooms or surrounded by family in shared spaces or those homeless kids seeking shelter and still logging in to google hangouts and zooms and youtube or whatever platform they can to stay connected and stay in school and stay sane and yeah still learn. You are all my heroes right now. Class of 2020, you are people we will write poetry about, sing hallelujah for decades about, for you are relinquishing prom and yearbook deadlines and graduations dates and final everything. You are stronger than you think. And we will find a way to hold on. A way to swing through the paces, and make this look effortless. A way to make this all work like magic.
Here we are. On our own couches. In the middle of our own living rooms. Reading an actual magazine. In loungewear. Bought online. Yeah. There are a few perks during the scary and dark days which have clouded our planet and forced us all indoors. I am not here to tell you what you should be doing to survive these days, but just wanted to let you know that we will, mostly, and I for one plan to celebrate epically on the other side.
Just when we all thought that getting through February was the biggest hurdle we’d face, through snow storms and chaotic debates, made it in and out of long work days and navigated shopping centers in frigid temps and facing winter challenges, we made it into March and ran smack into the hysteria and misinformation of COVID-19. Not that The World Health Organization isn’t doing what they can to spread truth, but we’ve been well-schooled to distrust the truth, repeatedly, and ad nauseam, so much so that doubting everything we hear or read from our reporters is the new normal. So, what to do in a crisis when we are several years into a reign of doubt? I’d like to suggest that we all take a deep breath, right now, inhale and exhale, and press play to watch the waves roll in and out. Just for a few seconds. Let’s start with that.
Since his ink hit the parchment Shakespeare has been spot on, in understanding the complexities of the heart, the highs and lows of passion, unchecked ambition that leads to treachery, and everything else that makes up the human experience. Line after line from dozens of plays and sonnets are etched forever into capturing our collective predicaments. This past month I have been steeped in such verse, wrapping up the tearful Romeo & Juliet with Freshmen, falling under the justice of Hamlet with Seniors, and delighted by a stage performance of The Tempest; curiously, this week, my thoughts run straight to Macbeth. How could they not, right? Basically nothing on any of our screens is what it actually appears to be, our entire world of commerce and health gone topsy turvy, while revenge leaches out of every Whitehouse tweet; this is the stuff of our headlines, for in every direction we face, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” We are media addicts all, scrolling from meme to meme, filtering out our own crow’s feet to fetishize our own sphere of influence. As we look to replace the bloat king, who dyes his comb-over and sports a cheap spray tan, (not that I take issue with hair dye or make-up, in fact I’m all for looking your very best, but his external duplicity only mirrors every level of his notorious and self-heralded double dealings); I want more than anything to see what is. Let’s step away from the media barrage, and recall Macbeth, as he chided himself against his own false faith in the witches: “Infected be the air whereon they ride; And damn’d all those that trust them! ” Let’s stop trusting those who cause more helter skelter, more “fog and filthy air.” Let’s face ourselves as raw and naked and vulnerable as that will be.
As we look out our kitchen windows or drive up and over the landscapes one bears witness to a stagnant world, locked in place by the current season. A small portion of the river may remain open but this ebb and flow is dictated by the wind and sun and temperature. We can only watch. And wait. Much like all that is spinning beyond our control in Congress, in China, in Israel and Australia and in so many dark corners of our planet. Hidden places were whispering continues into the night, where false dealings and double promises are etched along party lines.
Truly there is much that we wish to turn away from these days. Stuff that is too horrible to hold in our minds without breaking down. Who can let themselves think about the thousands of children behind detention fences? Or the 1 billion animals thought to be killed by the Australian bush fires? Or the swift rise of the coronavirus from China to the US? None of these help me out of bed in the morning, or aids my dealing with a classroom filled with teens who are already panicked over the devastation of our planet due to man’s idiocy, and what they see as just as inevitable escalation to another world war. I would love to turn a blind eye, would love not to witness any of these current crises, but their anxiety and demand for change requires more from me. To them, and the world we have created, we must bear witness with a keen eye and sharp drive toward a telling and absolute truth.
Before the night falls around us, before we can’t find our way out of despair, let us all bear witness, uncover that rare and delicate light back to kindness, utilize the brilliance of Science, lead without political pressure but with our shiny Constitution, and enter a new era our children will remember because of everything we did right.
There is much to reflect on as the first hours of this first day on this new year come into being and the old memories fade, and that is as true for me as it is for all. 2010 to 2019 brought birth and death, graduation and setback, opportunity and foreclosure, and living in between. There have been thousands of sunsets, across the Swiss Alps, reflecting in city skyscrapers, melting into the Mediterranean, sweeping along my backyard, hitting the northern most tip of Prince Edward Island and illuminating the Pacific. Each one a precious lucky moment locked in my mind. Sometimes solitary but better with a crew, watching day’s end close with such a grand finale makes all the rest a better story to tell.
For much of this last decade I made an annual trek to read AP English Literature essays with a group of hundreds, and found among them a group of women I fell in love with, for their strength and wit and smarts and embrace of me. We worked like machines for 7 days straight but made sure to celebrate each year. I don’t know what the next decade holds for us, but I will treasure all the moments, loud or quiet, that we spent together doing that arduous and oh so rewarding task. The College Board may be a suspect organization, but these ladies are pure gems. They and other grand friends, some who I see everyday as I enter my work place, and others who I only see via Facebook, I will continue to treasure for all days. Friends are the best measure of a life worth living. As I look forward to the next decade I hope to see all these lovelies, and you too, again.
This whole natural world is worth seeing. Snowy mountain peaks, green river valleys, long stretches of prairie and miles of thick coniferous forests, rocky lonely shorelines and broad sandy coastlines, there is no end to the beauty outdoors. The decade began by sledding down the slopes of Château d’Oex, and ended snorkeling in the Pacific off of the Guanacaste coast of Costa Rica, with countless swims and hikes in between. There is really nothing like the freedom of diving in or climbing along. Standing on the ledge of the Grand Canyon one feels so very tiny, so very inconsequential, and at the same time so empowered with the force that lifts us up.
As impressive as nature’s cathedral, as are man’s. The Duomo di Firenze captivated me for an entire day with the dome, the crypt, the baptistery, and the cathedral itself. This decade I also stood under Michelangelo’s opulent Sistine Chapel ceiling, and listened to the bells ring out from Notre Dame in Paris and St. Patrick’s in New York. I watched the sun set beyond the Statue of Liberty in our greatest harbor and while glancing back to the Eiffel tower from the Seine. I walked hundreds of miles of city pavement to see the craftsmanship of Venice and Geneva, and the ancient ruins of Ostia Antica and Arles. Man has raised monuments that cause us all to stop, observe, and wonder at such dedication to the noblest of ideals. I am blessed to have entered so many towering structures, and in some with students. For all of this decade, and the one before, I have had the good fortune to be a teacher. Sharing words and ideas in my classroom has been my daily reward. But I have also stood in awe with students, ushering them onto buses or planes, trains or boats, from the tops of the Swiss alps to a Venetian gondola, along the waterways of Lake Como and across Lake Geneva, overseeing Vatican City from St. Peter’s dome to watching monkey’s crisscross the trees in Palo Verde National Park. Hundreds and hundreds of students have passed through my life, and I am richly rewarded by all they have granted me.
I have moved many times this decade, and a few of these shifts were filled with loss and grief. Each time we landed and watched the dawn from a new vantage point we realized we were going to be okay. On the tough days we echoed refrains to keep our chins up, our eyes forward, and matched on. We let go of what we could, we dragged along the rest, but in the end there was always we two, and that felt like the best door prize we could hope for. Same-sex marriage became legal this decade, which allowed us benefits we dreamt of forever. Entering our third decade together, my spouse and me are forged by time, tested by joys, and rewarded with all that the unknown offers. We are buoyed by our children, whose lives have made ours busy, with their passions and break-ups, their accomplishments too. This decade they all ventured away from home, making their own mark, their own industry, and their own truth. Our family is bigger through their friendships and loves, their versions and visions, and by inviting us to join their crews. I am never happier than with all of them, still.
This last decade did bring the births of some quite marvelous and zany little people but it brought death too. All our mothers are gone. God-mothers and birth mothers and even special aunts. Not a day goes by that we don’t miss them. They were bigger and brighter and wore everything better than we will ever, and their legacy courses through our days and nights; our happy moments sitting in the Metropolitan Opera or dipping toes into the Long Island Sound bring back their laughter. They remind me to tell the very best versions of life. To ask for more. To accept what comes instead. Their’s were not the only deaths this decade. I would be remiss if I did not mention the horrific gun violence, made worse on the daily. The rise of school shootings, as well as violence propagated by anti-semitism and anti-queer, as well as every form of racism, has filled our headlines. This painful reality is our America now, with no clear vision to curb the epidemic. We have lost our way. Perhaps it was inevitable in a country driven by lobbyists and the 1%, but I do hope that protecting children will become more of a priority than stockpiling military-style weapons. Imagine that world? That would be miraculous.
Looking back and ahead, there is really only one thing that I know for sure, which is all the wonderful beings that pop in and out of my life, at odd moments or the most critical ones, and who love and understand me, are at my very core, driving my purpose, connected in ways that unfold as they do, with crazy. Love is binding.
This next decade stretches ahead as a blank roll of cloth, ready to be patterned, cut and sewn into a wondrous garment. I hope to wear it better. I hope we all do. Happy 2020 dear ones. May your brightest stars shine on!
Although I live in the northern hemisphere, and am not a stranger to the harsh white against blue, with an icy wind, much of my real joy comes from diving into open bodies of warm waters, as is evidenced from the travel choices I made in 2019: vacationing with a warm breeze blowing the high clouds along their way and diving in.