It is no longer an uncomfortable desk chair – among many of similar style with ages of scratched pen marks and gum – sitting in a stuffy classroom in August. This furniture in which I sit is plushy-comfy and significantly more adept at helping me stay calm. You see, as I write, I’m having 2 a.m. school flashbacks of first day, “What did you do last summer?” composition book, tell me stories. Didn’t matter what grade, teacher, building, bus I rode, or clothes worn on that first day back … some variation of “I want to know everything about your life when you weren’t here” had to be known.
Why this sudden anxiety? After all, those experiences were, … uhm, … some time ago and didn’t require any extra trips to the guidance counselor’s office or force me into a transic state of obvious obscurity. I moved forward into days two, three, and four of each year with little concern about that particular task. Giving no more thought to the teacher exhaustively pouring over my words of, “THIS is what I did …”, my steps tried to avoid larger pits of bullying, adolescence, and the blah-ugh of life I felt every day.
The summer story was always the same, anyway. Work. Don’t want to complain. So many lives with dirtier, nastier, grittier experiences in comparison and I have no right to gripe. I have not a “In the mine a boy, out a man” story to tell as I less-than gleefully found my way into strawberry fields or paper routes for summer income. Later, as permits allowed, transitioning into fast food service was easy and the dangers of black lung, methane poisoning, or collapsing walls were distant, non-existant realities. Safety with no worries and little time to recreate, summer was the time jammed in between compulsory education.
Why the anxiety now … at 2 a.m. … 40 + years later? What do I look like? A Therapist?
Why yes, … yes I am. I’m called upon to be my own right now. This is probably why I’m a bit anxious and the gods of teachers past decided to poke my REM. They are asking me to resolve this before the sun rises on another day. So, me … the dutiful student of things, always do what I’m told when asked of me … will comply.
Teacher: “Welcome back kids. The classroom, you’ll notice, is a bit different than before. Everything you were used to has changed. Look around. Write about what you see … “
“I don’t feel comfortable. I know you wanted me to write about what I see, but what I see makes me feel bad. You used to have happy pictures showing people holding hands, smiling, laughing… Where are they?
I’m sad. My friends are sad. They are angry at each other because what used to be kind words turned into bad words. They are not listening. Some of them are doing this unfriending thing now. “BFsF forever” thrown away.
I’m sitting here writing this looking around. My classmates aren’t happy. Their heads are down and it doesn’t look like anyone wants to do this assignment. The air here is stale. In this written silence, I ask you to open a window knowing you will not hear me. I saw you lock the door … and am convinced few others did. For my security – or the insecurity of others – I’m not entirely sure.
The windows to the outside give little assurance. Trusting what is seen out there is hard to do right now. Once calming tree branches used to massaging with the wind are now resisting harsh, cold jabs of unpredictable bruising.
Corners of this very room are the starkest 90-degree angles math has ever seen. Black and white of no variation takes hostage all colors wishing to brighten our hopes as we put pencils to our paper. This is the hardest “What did you do last summer?” I’ve ever been assigned. It’s not summer. I’m not happy. I suspect there are millions of fellow classmates in school with me right now. We’re stuck here.
Want to know what I see? Confusion. Anger. Mis-information. Greed. Political stupidity. Sadness. Death. Hatred. Bigotry.
This isn’t the conclusion, though.
What isn’t seen, but is in us, is HOPE. Yes, there are pockets of doing-good we can see. Personal stories of humans stepping up. Certainly – MOST certainly – props to ALL the medical front lines heroes pushing forward all the miracle medicine and making the hard decisions. They are my hope that we can get through all this. I have little faith in a political solution. Windmills and wishing there.
Hope is my unseen hero. It is my one-letter anagram off chance of a p-r nightmare not happening in the weeks to come. Hoping some calm, rational, peaceful minds can stand before us and teach us what we need to know about living with this pandemic.
Certainly, as IT stands before us today, we are not being properly educated in the matters at hand. No offense to you, teacher, as you read my composition over your drippy coffee, but, kindly get a clue.”
This once/100 year problem is teaching us about ourselves and showing us the real others. I’m not opposed to learning about the machinery in other folks’ skulls; However, when social media likes and dislikes turn into hatred and lifelong friendship breakdowns, there is stinkiness afoot.
Not just social media, but our own biases as well. Inabilities to accept even the smallest changes in a normal behavior pattern – even for the benefit of society – can be hard. Social distancing, I’ve witnessed as recently as yesterday, is still on the sideline for some folks … laughing their way through the day. Hand washing, coughing into your elbow, staying indoors, the 6-feet rule, sanitizing everything, all of this is sooo uncomfortably annoying – out of the normal. It’s really difficult to grasp for folks holding on, dearly, to what they’ve always known.
Staying composed while composing. This is all I can do for now. No real answers for anyone, I guess.
I’m sufficiently tired now. Two hours later and the anxiety has abated somewhat. Thanks for listening. Kinda wish my old guidance counselor’s office was available, though … better yet, my counselor himself! Now, wouldn’t that be fun? Would like to take the ‘ole composition book into his office and insist he give it a read. He may tell me I have too much time on my hands and suggest I look for a job. Oh, that’s the moment I’d be hoping for…
… that moment when I can reply, “Do you want fries with that?” Experience, after all, is the best teacher.