Time is no longer an enemy. She is not a constraint to keep me from doing what I want. She is not a constant gnat, buzzing about my ear as bells or alarms. She is no longer the judgmental girl, monitoring my activities and rushing me before I’m ready. Nor is she nagging me with chores or to-dos I am not ready or willing to do.
I find I no longer watch her warily, knowing she’ll take herself away when I need more minutes most; or dilly dally and expend slowly, when I truly just need a break. We’ve buried the hatchet and had an honest conversation, and Time is a friend, again. There is no nagging or whinging, from Time, or me at her. We understand each other, these days.
Yet Time is with me now more than ever before. Time is a constant companion, a dear old friend whom I’ve reconnected with after many years. We’ve had our differences and I’ll admit I hated her. Finding Time treats me this way now is more warming and comforting than anything else I’ve felt from her in many ticks and tocks.
As with any relationship, Time and I will have our ebb and flow. But I cherish now these moments in our relationship where we aren’t competing or judging the other; we are coexisting. Sometimes I can’t even tell she’s here, we understand each other so well. But she always is, and I’ve come to enjoy her company.
Time is a tree growing around a headstone. Suddenly she will encircle me. But I will be like her roots, grounded yet flowing.
This article began in 2016, before I completed my teaching degree. I’ve reworked it here, 3 years into my career, and things have changed. I am happy to say that my philosophy and passion for teaching has only evolved. The past four months, I’ve not been in the classroom, but I’ve been ‘with’ my students in every way that I can. We marched together for Black Lives Matter, the only high school in our county to organize a student protest. I have had to adapt to virtual teaching these past months; say farewell to graduating seniors in video chats; have conversations about quarantine and COVID-19 fears; and now we are tackling protest support and race education. In my school, I am blessed to have very open-minded and politically-active students, and with a majority Black student body, my role is often to listen and give my students a space to speak. Teachers are in massively influential position. Whether it is through our positive actions, or our negative ones, we help students form their ideas of right and wrong. We often spend more time with students than their families, in some situations and grade levels. Schools are communities unto themselves. As educators, we have the biggest responsibility in our effect on the next generation. It is not a job to be taken lightly.
In the current conversations around defunding the police, I was at first skeptical as it sounded like a bold rally cry more than an actual possibility. But the more I consider the funding deficit in education and other areas of community development, forgone in favor of police funding, the more I think twice. Shouldn’t we prioritize education over supplying tear gas and riot gear to law enforcement? It seems to me the greatest preventative care in any society is to provide a good education and life-sustaining services (healthcare, housing, food) to those who cannot provide it for themselves. Education is state-sanctioned, but not state-prioritized. This needs to change, and reallocating police funds to education is a big step that can be the preventive care our nation needs.
Teachers are heroes. Most people grew up in public school, and if you didn't I know you had someone in your life teach you something at some point, whether that be at private school, Sunday school, a homeschooled co-op, or even your babysitter. And anyone who has been in the position to teach in any fashion knows that it is a challenge, and even more than that, that most people certainly aren't up for it.
In today's developing society, teachers are getting more respect, and I am so thankful for this. Monetarily, teaching is a viable career and in a "good" district one can certainly make a living off of their salary (… if it’s combined with their partners’.) Unfortunately, in many school districts that isn't even the case, but hopefully that will change.
This deserves to change because, as a college student, I can vouch for the quality of training we receive. Teachers have to graduate with a 3.25 GPA, almost a full point higher than other students need to graduate. We conduct three observances of classrooms, and an entire school year in most cases of student teaching, and we all specialize in Special Education as a part of our major, regardless of level or subject. After graduation, the training doesn't stop. Those "random days off" public students enjoy are teacher in-service days, where teachers essentially go to school to maintain their training, and stay certified.
Also, increasingly, to continue teaching within the same district for most schools, teachers need to obtain a master's (MA) within five years of employment. That means that before I'm 30 I'll need to have my master's, and so will everyone. This isn't typically paid for by the district, either, so the dedication of a teacher to their students comes out of their own pocket; something that isn't news to any teachers, but I'm sure many students and parents haven't thought about how much their teachers spent on them before.
In national averages, cited here at Chron Work Guides and seen at the US Department of Justice for specifics on individual training programs, cops receive 18-30 weeks of training. Within 5 months, most cops are on the street.
Most cops have no extenuating degrees, like a bachelors or associates, or higher. This is insufficient for the work they are asked to do. They are asked to be social workers, arriving to scenes where a special needs child is having a panic attack, or to deescalate domestic violence, with no empathetic training. It is not a job in which qualifications meet expectations, or even that expectations are clear when you begin. This is not always the fault of the officers if they are put in this position unprepared. This brings in a question bigger than their training deficit. Why are cops the only people we can call? Where can this funding be put elsewhere to instate better emergency measures? Someone not armed, someone with social work training and who will not intimidate a special needs child, or escalate a situation with their persona? Why can’t we dial 9113, for example, an extension that calls a non-armed social worker, ambulance, or emergency team?
Police are a year-round job, sure. So here is my rebuttal to the favorite argument, "teaching gets you free summers!” We work overtime every day, and most weekends to grade and plan lessons, the districts don't incorporate more than 1 hour a day for this out-of-class work. Parent teacher conferences and phone calls, IEP meetings for special education students, shopping for materials (paid out of our own pocket) and preparing lessons ahead of time are more ways I know I’ve worked overtime. Beyond that, WE ARE ONLY PAID 10 MONTHS OF THE YEAR, it’s not like we’re paid for time we’re not working. Add to that our need to pay for our own bachelors AND masters degrees, when cops go through their own training schools in less time for free, our services are highly valued.
The most frustrating part of the lack of respect for teachers is that someone in a corporate job, or who runs their own business, or who works in retail or food service think that teaching is something you should do for fun, because their jobs aren't. But that's not true. Teaching is rewarding, but it is a challenge. It is inspiring, but it is also frustrating. And not very many professions warrant less appreciation than teaching does. Policing is certainly one of them, but this comes from extenuating bad reputations. Even a “harmless” encounter with police is nerve-wracking for most people; an armed man assessing you at a traffic stop is very intimidating even when you drive away safely.
How does this compare to teaching? We are not trained to deescalate violent situations, and yet we do it every day with no injury to students.
Teachers in most cases do not warrant the abuse thrown at us, by students or parents or strangers at the market. Cops have extreme power in our society, and are well-compensated for it, and are prone to abuse it. A main reason given is usually that they are not properly trained. See the above paragraph; obviously, that needs to change. But remember this: teachers have no power, limited compensation, and are expected to go above and beyond in our roles as caregivers, therapists, social workers, and emotional support to students.
I have been hit by students on 3 occasions, and broken up/prevented countless fights. In response, never once have I:
1) hit back
2) used force or any physical contact at all to detain a student
3) used verbal assaults on a student or parent.
In one case I was asked to prosecute, as it was a student’s 3rd offense, and I did not. Not because they were sorry in any way, but because I didn’t want them to go through a justice system where they could be faced with police that wouldn’t give them compassion. I was in a place to use compassion, and I always choose to. Why cops, in this same situation, need to shoot someone, choke them, or even say vile words to them is beyond me. It is their definitive training, the only training police really receive outside of weaponry, and they often escalate situations. It is unacceptable.
Teachers provide kids and young adults with the tools and foundations they need to survive in the world. The one thing everyone needs to be saying to teachers is "thank you." It is a heavy job that teachers willingly and lovingly engage in, but we need to recognize that just because it is something they are passionate about, doesn't mean they should be discounted for it. And anyway, as a parent or a student, wouldn't you rather have a passionate teacher? Teachers can make or break a student's life, and I know that you would prefer the former. Teachers are role models, inspirations, and even borderline parental figures for every student they come in contact with, and when they do their job well, they deserve a parade. I think we should add something to this list.
People need to stop asking future teachers questions like, "But you're so smart, why would you teach?" or, "everybody wants to teach these days"? Someone who really, truly wants to be a teacher, and deserves the opportunity to touch young lives, will be the smartest people in our society, and the most passionate about their subjects. Many people will get an education degree, and some of them will be employed by school districts, but not too many will actually teach. Aspiring teachers, keep your hearts, eyes, and ears open at all times and know that every ounce of empathy you gain will make you a better teacher for your future students. Now is a big time to listen and engage, being on the right side of history is the right step in being a good teacher.
To teach is to inspire, and there aren't many people with the capacity and skill set that this requires. Teaching is a calling, a vital (if not the most important) lifeline in the support of society’s healthy progression. Funding for education should come before anything else, and when looking at defunding the police, remember teachers alongside healthcare workers and social care as a place that funding needs to be reallocated.
"To not have these conversations because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege... We have to be able to choose courage over comfort and say, 'Look, I don't know if I'm going to nail this but I'll try, because what I'm sure as hell not going to do is stay quiet.' ...
Every day I scroll social media, there seems to be another horrific act of racist violence in this country. Americans are desensitized, most feel used to it - it's so integral in our culture. But we cannot accept this. Black people cannot live in fear, and it is the least white people can do to make safe spaces for people of color, and have open ears and hearts to understand that their experiences in America are different than we can even comprehend.
There has been a string of violence against black people, even during quarantine when no one is meant to leave their house. Breonna Taylor was shot while asleep in her bed. Ahmaud Arbery was shot while jogging. George Floyd was suffocated by a police officer as he called out, “I can’t breathe”. And these are the extreme cases that make the news. Know that every single day, black people are being kicked out of businesses for wearing masks. They're convicted for crimes with no evidence. They're being followed by police, called by a white person uncomfortable by their presence. Black women are being beat and dragged from their homes by officers without a warrant, at the wrong address. At the same time officers are ignoring their calls of domestic violence, not going to certain addresses "for the officers' own safety".
As white people, we need to use our privilege to stand up for injustice when we see it. Here are Seven Ways you can get involved right now to help:
In a system where black people are systemically oppressed, laws need to be proportionally changed to benefit POC communities. This means, yes, choosing people of color over white people when it comes to prioritizing laws that ensure their equal opportunity in this country.
3. Have open, honest conversations with yourself. Analyze when you have been the aggressor in a racist encounter. Have you been a white savior - getting credit for standing up for equality? Have you been dismissive of the severity of a POC's experience - "it's not that bad though" or "I mean that could happen to anyone"? Are you sitting silently while others make comments or commit actions in your presence that hurt POC? There is a sliding scale of racism - it's not that you either have Confederate flags or are a perfect ally to POC. Even well-meaning comments like "you don't act black" to your friends are harmful to self-image and racial equality. Having made a racist mistake is forgivable when you confront it and make the effort to grow and change. See the resources below in #4 for more about how you can educate yourself on what not to say or how not to react. Be an active ally - make the choice to grow, learn, change, and LISTEN, always use empathy.
4. Read literature by people of color (POC), non-fiction and fiction. Start a book club; join one online. Read to your kids. Let your friends borrow your books. Below are resources based on lists created by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein, with additions from myself:
5. White people: we need to have a policy (ideally upheld within our police forces) and in our actions that denies the opportunity for violence against people of color. Active bystanders are the future of change. Walking back from the bar and see a cop outside? Just keep your eyes peeled that the group of black women gets past them safe. Sitting on your balcony at home and see a lone black woman at the bus stop? Just keep an eye that no one messes with her. In any of these situations all you have to do as a white person is say "hey, what's new? Haven't seen you in forever!" And start a fresh conversation with a positive tone. I don’t mean this to sound “too easy”, or demeaning or coming across as a white savior. I can’t promise that will always work, but in my experience it is better to try. I think this should be the default for looking out for each other, regardless, just like women in an empty parking lot look out for each other.
6. Calling out racist behavior for what it is may not always work, but being a positive light in a situation will make the racists look like fools and back down. If someone makes a racist joke, ask “Can you explain why that one was funny?” They won’t know how to respond. If they get defensive, smile complacently. They got the message. Some people can’t be rationed with, but you never know who is listening. Be the example and show them what you believe is right through your actions.
7. Be an open ear for people of color: listen! Why do they feel that way? As human beings, we have no right at any time to tell someone else they aren't feeling what they are. Oppression is very, very alive in this country. There has only been 50 years of "equality" since the end of segregation, and 300 years of bondage through slavery before that. Keep perspective and learn, use empathy.
Racist attitudes will not die easily. We have a lot of work to do, but we CAN do it. White people, use your privilege to disrupt the systemic oppression -that is how we ultimately dismantle it. Be an ally, be a supporter. Take a back seat and do what you can for your community to grow and do better for people of color.
Today, May 29th 2020, I had the honor of writing and presenting the eulogy for my Uncle Jimmy. I wanted to share this for everyone who knew him or the Gills family, or who could not have made it to the funeral. A funeral during a pandemic is different to say the least. It is more difficult than usual to find closure, but we had a wonderful gravesite ceremony today. Enjoy these memories of a one of a kind man.
Thank you for gathering here today to commemorate the life of James Dabney Gills, or as we all knew him, Jimmy. He was a rolling stone, a man with many phases to his life. There were ups and downs, but always with a spirit of perseverance throughout.
For many of us, our recent memories of Jimmy are of his struggles. Unfortunately, after the death of his parents, those of us who knew him saw a changed man. He couldn't recover from their loss and their ever-present support, he became a bit like a ship without an anchor. Undoubtedly, his reunion with them is our biggest comfort today.
Jimmy had many wonderful memories of his early life. During his school years, every day started at the family breakfast table where his parents, oftentimes aunt Mamie, his sister Frances, affectionately called Sissy, and her daughters, Lisa and Kim. Every morning, Lisa, Jimmy, and Kimmy walked to school together up Lancaster Avenue. Being typical teenagers, they often pleaded with his mom to drive them to school, but this plea was denied excepted on rainy days. Growing up, Jimmy spent most every day with Lisa and Kim. Frances insisted Jimmy attend Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church and go through confirmation with her girls. Kimmy and Jimmy were confirmed together, and there were many memories of Sunday school and church every Sunday. He graduated with Kim, her “big bad Uncle Jimmy” keeping her under his wing. The three have many memories together of pitching their tent in the backyard of the house in Wyomissing; trips down to the farm, where they would go fishing with Uncle Weldon, or play in the hay bales and on the tobacco trailers. Kim fondly recalls swimming at the Shillington Pool, fishing at the Porky in Shillington Park, Attending Community Days and going to the Shillington Movie Theater. Every summer, all the grandchildren from out of state would visit, and Jimmy’s mom and aunt Betty would take the 7 kids to Hershey Park. When CB radios fell into fashion, Dad, aka Johnny Reb, and Mom, aka Liberty Bell, became quite active in the community. They hosted gatherings at their home nearly every weekend, and attended CB rallies in the summer months, all of which were a family affair. Perhaps the most memorable childhood adventure for Jimmy was when he went with Frances and her family to California. This was the first time for any of them to fly in an airplane. They drove the California coastline from San Francisco to Tijuana, Mexico. The highlight of the trip was getting to meet the lead character of Emergency!, Roy DeSoto. As Jimmy ventured out on his own, his love of traveling continued. His favorite places were Charleston, South Carolina, Virginia Beach and Assateague Island, as well as regular visits to the farm in Virginia. We know one of his regrets later in life is not getting back down to the farm to see everyone one last time. We take solace in knowing he is now with many of them who have passed before him - his parents, John and Helen Gills, his sister, Frances, and his many aunts and uncles from the farm, most especially uncle Tommy.
Circumstances changed often in Jimmy’s life, but the constant for him was the excitement of cars. Jimmy loved cars and everything to do with them. He spent hours in his dad’s garage in Shillington with his brothers, Robert and Joe Larry. He loved Nascar Racing, especially Dale Earnhardt. He also loved Maple Grove Raceway for any event from drag racing to swap meets. Anything to do with cars and the road, he was driven by it (pun intended.) He loved acquiring cars to fix up, the bigger the challenge the better. There was nothing like the thrill of the hunt for a part for his latest project. He would scour junk yards, the old fashioned way before auto parts websites! His love of cars was much like his love of life: he had to start from scratch a lot of times, but he was always optimistic and eager about every opportunity.
The phases of his life were marked by the cars he owned at the time. Everyone from Governor Mifflin High School remembers Jimmy’s Jeep, a Golden Eagle CJ-7, his first beloved car which his dad gave him. He was always cruising around Shillington and taking people for rides. It’s a wonder he could afford the gas, but the work ethic of his parents was instilled in Jimmy. His first job was at Shillington Restaurant, working his way up from dishwasher to cook, while Kimmy bussed tables. He later carried on the Gills legacy working at V&S Sandwiches.
When he went on to work at Baldwin Brass, everyone in the family was gifted beautiful things, true to his generous nature. Jimmy’s favorite job was his next, baking at Tom Sturgis Pretzels. It allowed him to buy his first brand new car, a Chevy Cavalier. This started the diehard question: which is better, Chevy or Ford? The debate raged between Jimmy and his dad, even crossing state lines into the family farm in Virginia. Jimmy always dreamed of getting his hands on an old classic car put out to pasture at the farm whom Jimmy affectionately dubbed “Christine”, after the Stephen King novel.
Running a close second to cars was Jimmy’s love of animals. His childhood was surrounded by them. Queenie and Shade, the family dogs, a multitude of fish tanks in the living room, and the guinea pig housed in the kitchen who alerted all whenever the refrigerator opened. Number one of course was the cat that cemented his favorite animal of all time, Nicky, the white and grey tuxedo rescue cat, who he got for his birthday from Frances at around age 7. There was rarely a conversation you had with Jimmy that wasn’t about his next car or his next cat.
Music was a staple in the Gills household. It started with his parent's Johnny Cash records, and watching countless episodes of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Oprey. The Monkees band was an inspiration for the cousins, and they even went so far as to imitate the band in the basement! With Lisa as Davey Jones, Jimmy as Mickey Dolenz, cousin Johnny as Michael Nesmith and Kim as Peter Tork. Kim said she particularly remembers getting a pair of cowboy boots because Jimmy really loved Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings… this definitely worked for the Peter Tork look, as well! As he matured classic rock was his go to. The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynrd were among his favorites. Later in life, a key inspiration for his own recovery journey was Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. Jimmy always looked to musicians for inspiration.
Jimmy never met a stranger. Once you started talking to him, he considered you a friend. His kind disposition and easy smile made you instantly like him. He had an uncanny ability to remember people, faces, and conversation details. Once you met Jimmy, you were never forgotten. No matter how little he had to give, he was always generous and thoughtful. He always had a Matchbox car or a handmade craft for his niece and nephews. Perhaps no story tells it better than how, after conquering a year of sobriety, he celebrated his success by gifting his sobriety coin to his nephew Tristan. This treasured possession is a tangible symbol of Jimmy's love and respect for his family, who motivated him and stood by his side.
In many ways Jimmy is a victim of the pandemic. The suffering of increased isolation, for the social butterfly that he was, took its toll on Jimmy's mental health. He had less access to the community support he became reliant on, and the overall uncertainty of life in these times weighed heavily on him in recent months. As we recall these beautiful memories of Jimmy’s unique personality, it would be Jimmy’s wish for each of us to leave here with a smile, as our wish for him is to be at peace.
“But certainly Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the ‘message’ was the hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is... one of the chief causes of human disaster. The immortal Elves call ‘death’ the Gift of God (to Men).” - J.R.R. Tolkien, in a letter to a friend
Death is not an enemy, but the only surety in our lives. No thing in life is guaranteed except that it ends. Death is so natural, so simple, and so solid that it should be a source of comfort. We should not say, “death is scary”, but that “this death has made me feel fear”, or anger, or sorrow. Death is the stimulus - we are in control of our reaction to it. Of course we should lean into the feelings it brings upon us. These emotions feel uncontrollable, but it is because they are strong, and it may have been a long time since we’ve felt strong emotion. If we feel sorrow, we should cry. We should sob, we should scream into the sky, “this isn’t fair!” We can demand answers, beg for this to all be dream. Let those emotions flow, unmitigated, and do not apologize.
When feeling affected by the death of another, experiencing those feelings in that moment are vitally important. Death is a release, not just for the sufferer now at peace, but for those on this plane of existence to release the emotions we have for that person. I don’t mean release as in “let go”, but release as in “set free.” Live freely with your emotions, as long and as often as you need to. Come back to them when anniversaries or memories arise, however frequently. Feeling pain is not weakness; working through pain is the biggest strength humans are capable of. Confront pain, name those emotions and ask, “why am I angry?” Allow yourself to fully exist in those emotions, feel why they’re there, no matter how messy or uncomfortable they are. The emotions death leads us to feel are often why we fear death, more than the fact that the person is now lost. The truth is that they are at peace, no matter how they passed, and Death is inevitable for us all.
An emotion Death incurs that we don’t like to talk about is guilt. “I could have done more,” you may think, or “why didn’t she call me?” “I had more to say to them” and “If I had known the last time we were going to talk, I would have stayed longer… hugged tighter… said ‘I love you’.” The good news is that you can still do all of those things. Regardless of religious beliefs, the energy, soul, or spirit of a person is not dead with them. Their life on earth is one path of the spirit. You give them new life every time they cross your mind. In recounting stories, memories, journaling, making their favorite food, picking a bouquet to put on their grave, telling the next generation about them, or simply smiling at their favorite soda as you wait in the check out line, continues their life. A life is a spiral - we come into this world much as we leave it, and through childbirth and injury come back to that place of vulnerability throughout.
A life is not a candle snuffed out and melted down into oblivion. Life is the air the candle flickers in. We are present on this earth in physical form for a time, but we all need to accept that the physical flame is only one form of the air and fire; we will return to the sky and the earth, and be as untouchable as they for more of our existence than any long life on this Earth.
The hard truths need to be accepted in life to really come to terms with Death. Our spouses will leave us, or we will leave them - loneliness is inevitable in the most loving of unions. Our children will bury us - and that is best case scenario, as otherwise parents bury children. Every person we know will die and become memories and stories, before or after us, it doesn’t matter. Death is a comforting truth, and it can bring with it strong emotions. Don’t let them be for naught. Use those strong emotions to remind yourself to always say I love you to your friends and family. Stay that extra hour, even when there’s work in the morning. If you’re “too busy”, consider: what does that mean? Why does that matter? What matters to you in this life? What regrets might you have? And choose Joy. Choose Love. Choose what serves you and yours.
And we should find comfort in those around us. Because Death is a bringer of comfort, not unease. When Death comes for one in your life, accept the emotions it brings with it. For some of those emotions are good - they bond us closer with those left on the earth. And find comfort that Death is a gift, it is a guarantee in an uncertain world growing stranger by the day. It is a unifier, as we all will experience it. And it gives us emotional depth like nothing else. We will only be flames for a brief time, but we will all be the air around the flames for eternity.
Photo: This is my Nana's grave, where her body resides in Reading, PA since 2001. But as a world traveler, I can say she's been much more often with my my mother, my aunt, and I in countless countries and innumerable adventures.
I lost my uncle Jimmy a week past, and will bury him here with his sister next Friday, May 29th 2020. This has been a year of loss for many, but we must take comfort in the air they now inhabit, not grief in the extinguished flame.
March 2020, Week 4 of the COVID-19 Quarantine
The wind is fierce as it blows the door shut behind me. My parent’s home is surrounded by nature. When I step outside I'm reminded of the contrast between my world growing up here in Honey Brook, and my life in Baltimore, where I cannot go outside or feel nature in any capacity but a small balcony, and the whoosh of cars on the avenue block out any birds that happen to roost in the sole tree in our complex. My gratitude for Honey Brook brings a smile to my face as the chill breeze and the sun's warmth alternate on my skin.
I begin with a walk through my mother's gardens, turning clockwise to walk across the patio and unlatch the gate. A statue of St. Francis of Asisi, characteristically cradling a small bird in his hands, overlooks the hillside garden, worn with 30+ years of sentry duty in the sun. The red rocks and mulch are dotted with large quartz and fieldstone, a plague to some in this farming county, but a beauty for us. I pass the depression of a pond we used to have, now filled in beyond much recognition except to we who remember. In my mind's eye, I see little me scooping tadpoles and trying to pet the mother frogs as a child. As I continue around the bend, passing nondescript blooms not yet visible, and brown, wintered bushes of plants even my mother forgets the name of, I pass a holly tree. In my mind it is still a small bush, but of course it's been over 30 years since it's planting. I am continually amazed how memory holds its shape regardless of reality. Here I pause to write in my journal.
The smells of the garden are that of cut grass, wind, and spring pollen. The indescribable scent of freshness, youth, blossoms. I make a mental note to open a window when I go back inside. I hear a background noise I’ve come to adore: “peepers”, a frog variety common here, coming from the southern neighbor’s pond. I hear countless bird species in “the Jungle” - my childhood name for the wooded area behind our home that scales the hill we live atop. The nearest road is below our home’s hillside expanse, at the base of the slope. I don’t hear a car at all on this walk; indeed in a day I only hear 1-5 since the stay-at-home order has been placed. It’s never loud ordinarily, but this is a particular treat nonetheless. Instead what I do hear a few times is the echoing, drifting clip-clop of a horse. As it nears I hear the accompanying clatter of a buggy, its metal wheels without shocks, and once a horse brays and snorts as it rounds the bend of our slope. Sometimes, I choke with a happy sob at the sound. It is invigorating to me, like the blustering wind that passes from north to south, or the thunderclap in the night. It is in harmony with nature and my soul, a sound I hear in the depths of my mind from my cacophonous Baltimore apartment when I cannot sleep. To hear it alive, is like a confirmation of a long-held suspicion, or to wake from a nightmare to see you’re actually home safe in your bed. “It is real, it wasn’t a dream, I’m home.”
In the years since I’ve lived here full-time, I’ve never stopped visiting it. And now that all five of us have returned, it is alive again. I feel the land breathing with each gust of wind that blows my journal pages up. I chuckle at the greeting, or prod, and rise from the path by the holly tree.
I continue the walk as it completes my sunwise circle of our home. I cross the parking pad, filled with our many cars from our many exterior lives, stoic beasts with no immediate purpose. I rejoin the path, and pass my favorite patch of the garden - the remnants of the herbs my mother planted when I was young. The soil here is fertile. A kind of fertile cursed by my gardening mother, and grandmother when she helped install these gardens in the ‘90s before her death in 2001. This was a farming paddock for untold years before the house was built, and the resting place for its animals when they passed. Their return to the earth has made growth unstoppable here. The herbs I pass are prolific mint, batches of lemon balm, and “weeds'' of wild violet, milk thistle, and speedwell. My mother had never planted any of them, and has meshed over, remulched, and even stone-covered these herbs countless times. And yet they continue to grow, and spread. The smell of fresh, country mint - as the variety is known here in Lancaster County, PA - is strong, empowering. The lemon balm melds with it in a vaporous scent that awakens and revives. But it is not just the smell and the feel that entices me. It’s that nature has persisted, insisted, that this part of the garden should be hers.
I go back into the house and grab a scissors and a strainer. I’m making mint tea today. I’ve seen, felt, heard, and inhaled the gardens today - the need to taste it is strong. I trim the tallest stalks of mint and fill the strainer, rubbing the leaves together in my hands to release the smell, a perfume that will stain my skin all day. I smile throughout this activity. It’s simple, but yields a great reward of hydration and purification. There’s no need for sugar, this mint is sweet. As I take a last look around the garden for the morning, I look over at the blooming cherry blossoms. I make a mental note to read below them today.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back, and peace shall come again. Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever be again as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime.” - J.R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter VI: ‘Lothlorien’
In my rereading of the Lord of the Rings, the book that gives me strength and perseverance like no other text, I feel this was the quote I was meant to read. Written nearly 80 years ago, this quote is more relevant to me today during this virus than at any other time in my life. In the face of the Shadow, an unseen villain, I too - like Haldir in this chapter, and Tolkien by extension - feel that there is no going back. The New Normal is not settled and we won’t know for a long time what that will be like. I try not to consider too hard, but I fear we may not have festivals anymore; or public sports; or attend schools without masks. We may never again put our hands on an acquaintance’s or friend's shoulder in solidarity, or offer free hugs to our neighbors or students. Like the quote says, “the light of the Sun”, the every day society we take for granted, is not to be as it was “before”. I feel we will speak in “befores” for a long time, affecting our perception of television, books and films from the “before” times. When it comes time for “afters”, I think often what that will be like. Will TV change to adapt? Will our favorite office dramas wear masks, as we may have to, for the foreseeable future? Or will shows have to set themselves in a past now lost to us? Will our way of life two months ago become a genre of historical fiction? These are the thoughts I have.
I do not want things to go back to normal. I want things to grow from “normal” and accept the changes we will need to make for our own safety. We cannot protest and complain like children when the safety of our people is at stake. When parents lose jobs, a child can complain about not being able to order pizza delivery; but a child will still not get the pizza. When a teacher says its time to come in from recess, a student can say “please, five more minutes!” but they will not get the extra minutes. It is best to refocus yourself and enjoy the meatloaf prepared at home; to anticipate the math lesson that follows recess each afternoon. There is nothing we can do now except keep on and be ready for what changes may come.
Thoughts and Inquiries
Writing happens, and often defies categorization. Here are my thoughts on life, from surviving quarantine, to the education system; from feminism, to spirituality; inspiring stories, to conversations on death.