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.
There are many days that come in with a brilliant dawn and race into blue. Days when every piece fits with precision and one knows exactly why they are doing what it is they do. These are the golden days we cheer on, the days we hold on to, the very ones we celebrate. But there are others. Messy and awkward and ugly. When we wander, lost, lonely and even in fear. Today, we gather those up too, as we scoop up the mashed potatoes onto our too full plates, and unburden ourselves with those who know us, and yet, love us still.
Did he cry Witch Hunt? Again? A term he has tweeted close to 300 times like rapid fire at all of us? Of course he did, because if there is one thing this president knows about lies, is the power of repeating them. “Calling himself the victim of a witch hunt allows Trump to label charges against him as not just inaccurate but fundamentally impossible. Witch hunts, by definition, are illegitimate, their victims innocent, their judgments always wrong” (Markham- Cantor). Is there anyone who believes he is innocent? Not even Trump claims that verdict. He boasts his lies like a prankster proclaims laughs.
Having just finished Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with my Advanced Placement English Literature students, who, due to the large number of theater kiddos in the room, read with passion and gusto, it was as if John Proctor and Abigail Williams and the rest of those iconic characters peopled my class. When Abigail, in all her initial seductive coyness said, “A wild thing may say wild things” they predicted that Proctor’s sin of adultery would unravel around him, and that she had indeed “an endless capacity for dissembling”. In Act Three John lets loose his shame, “I have know her, sir. I have known her.” “You–you are a lecher?” The crux of the Salem Witch trials fought over land tracks and false blame and stifling fear all come to a “pointy reckoning” when the innocent hanged “high over the town.” My students were hooked on every word like greedy fair-goers, ready to watch as lies replaced fact and insanity trumped reason.
As we slip closer to becoming the dystopian world we used to chuckle over while reading the fantastical novels of our youth, I now wonder about ever leaving the house. Even then paranoia creeps in while watching/listening/reading the news. It’s melting ice caps and fire storms. It’s waring tweets from men plenty old enough to know not to taunt but daily they do. There’s corruption in Facebook, phone apps listening, and Amazon with one-day deliveries causing insurmountable mountains of cardboard. Gun violence passing epidemic proportions that not even George Orwell would have imagined. Rational stuff gone daft too, like the inability to debate issues in Congress or use Science as a base for fact. Everyone is distrustful of any branch of government. People are retreating, especially the L.G.B.T., unsure if our marriages or jobs or civil rights will stand this latest round of Supreme Court discussions.