My Top 15 Audiobooks for 2020

I loved them all for very different reasons. But if I have to make a single choice? My #1 book of the year (audio or otherwise) is Lacy Crawford’s “Notes on a Silencing.” What a brave, enraging, heartbreaking, inspiring, beautifully written book. It has all the components that get me: stuffy private boarding school, institutional power vs. a teen student, the covering up of a crime, and most importantly the courage of a talented writer (decades later) choosing to tell her true story to, in Lacy’s words, finally “burn it all down.”

The lemons, the anger, the falling apart

Still Life with Lemon and Cut Glass, Maria Margaretha van Os, 1823 – 1826. Rijksmuseum

Tuesday afternoons, we would drive to marriage counseling in separate cars. We did this, we said, because it would save time if we met there straight from work. This sounded sensible. It was also a lie. We took separate cars because we were both so angry we could not fathom being trapped with each other in a car. What if he suddenly wanted to talk or yell? What if I wanted to talk and he didn’t want to listen? Worst, what if, on the drive home from therapy, one of us wanted to discuss … the therapy?

I was 26. He was 34. We would be divorced within the year. How fast it can all fall so irreparably apart.

This is how America looks to me now, post-election. Irreparably torn apart. We Democrats and Republicans had our big, final meetup on November third — Cast your vote! Make your voice heard! — and yet it seems everyone, no matter who they voted for, remains steeped in anger and resentment.

In George Packer’s 2013 National Book Award winner The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, he writes of how Newt Gingrich transformed American politics. Gingrich “saw that the voters no longer felt much connection to the local parties or national institutions. They got their politics on TV, and they were not persuaded by policy descriptions or rational arguments. They responded to symbols and emotions …. Donors were more likely to send money if they could be frightened or angered, if the issues were framed as simple choices between good and evil.”

Add Facebook as an accelerant, and here we are. Like Trump himself, the Trump voter refuses to accept the election results; he will not be trapped in a Biden car where evil liberals kill healthy newborns and want to hand out free healthcare. And no Biden voter would be caught dead in a car flying a giant Trump flag with people who pack by the thousands into rallies, unmasked, screaming “Lock her up!” and “Fake news!”

So where exactly does this leave us as one America, trying to make agreed-upon, rational decisions during a deadly pandemic?

A friend calls to tell me about a recent Texas wedding she declined to attend. “They invited 250,” she says, the max the venue can hold, and when I gasp she adds, “but right off 75 sent their regrets, and two weeks out another 50 cancelled because of the virus.”

“So they still had 125 people,” I say, sounding as accusatory as I feel. “At a wedding. With multiple grandparents. In Texas, where cases and deaths are spiking.”

“After the wedding,” my friend says, “they posted pictures on Facebook. I looked real close and did not see a single mask.”

She then tells me about her aunt and uncle, both vocal Trump supporters. The aunt continues to believe the virus is a hoax, even after the uncle (her husband) died of the virus in this summer. The aunt now claims you simply need to drink a lot of lemonade and put lemon juice on everything. It’s all about the lemons! She saw it on Facebook somewhere.

Here in my little town, a woman sends me a photograph of a house shortly after Biden was declared the winner. They were flying an upside-down American flag and a Trump flag together. She is so angry, she says.

Just what Mr. Gingrich would want.

What Gingrich had started in the 1980s paid off. By “the millennium the two sides were dug deep in opposing trenches,” Packer writes, “the positions forever fixed, bodies piling up in the mud, last year’s corpses this year’s bone, a war whose causes no one could quite explain, with no end in sight: l’enfer de Washington. Perhaps he had wanted it this way all along. Politics without war could be rather boring.”

On January 20, Joe Biden (the supposed “boring” candidate) will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. In a Nov. 17 interview with CNN, Dr. Fauci tried for common sense across party lines. “You can continue to do activities which are good for the economy, but still adhering to the public health measures that we’re talking about. I just can’t understand why there’s pushback against that. They’re not that difficult to do. And they save lives. They save lives.”

Wait. What about lemons? Could somebody ask Dr. Fauci about the lemons?

The main thing I learned in marriage counseling is this: For it to work, you both have to want to be there, to listen, and to come to some fundamental agreements. You have to be willing to ride home in the same car together.

Are you willing? Am I? Because if not, how very fast this will all fall apart.

4 more years of this?

From my mother’s diary.

___________________________________

In the final days of presidential campaigns, it is American tradition to ask, Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?

This year, how about we add a few: Are you happier than you were 4 years ago? Sleeping well? Getting along with your neighbors? Confident in the health of your family, in your opportunities? Have the last 4 years brought you joy?

The last time I went to a University of Kentucky football game, our seats were in the visitors’ section. Enemy territory, we joked. No big deal. I was with my 30-something son and a friend of his. Let’s call the friend Jake. Jake is one of those super-fans. He lives for game day and gets het up over every play, every possession. In the first half UK played well. Jake was happy. But after halftime, as the visiting team put more and more points on the board and it became clear we would likely lose, Jake grew visibly angry, making it a point to turn around and glare and jeer at the visiting team’s cheering fans.

When Jake started screaming obscenities at an elderly gentleman a few rows behind us, I’d had enough. We made for the exit and then endured one of those long, silent walks to the car, the kind where one person has ruined everyone’s night and we all just want to survive the drive home. It was Jake who finally broke the silence. I figured he was going to apologize. I was wrong. “Well that sucked,” he said. “Worst night of my life.”

I tell you this story because this is what our politics feels like in 2020. Hateful, angry, jeering. We are no longer Republicans and Democrats with healthy policy differences. We are winners or we are losers. We are good vs. evil. We are on the right team or the wrong team. And being on the wrong team in enemy territory can be scary. When I asked a friend on the main road to town why she hasn’t put a Biden sign in her yard, she said, “Because our bedroom is in the front of the house and people aren’t only stealing signs, they’re shooting them up.”

In these last weeks before the election — as we pass 220,000 Americans dead from a virus for which he has still offered no plan for mitigation — the president has shared no plans and no policies for the next 4 years. He has, instead, held large, reckless rallies, calling his opponents and the press criminals, his crowds chanting, Lock her/him up! about every perceived “enemy” from Joe Biden to Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan who was targeted by homegrown terrorists with detailed plans to kidnap and execute her.

Last weekend, as his army of supporters chanted “Lock her up!” about Whitmer, the president responded, “Lock them all up!” And the crowd went wild.

When asked why her father-in-law would condone such language following the FBI foiling a plot to kidnap and assassinate an American governor, Lara Trump dismissed it. “He was having fun at a Trump rally,” she said.

Yes, I thought. Fun. The president was having fun the same way Jake was having fun at that UK game. Opponent as enemy.

I’ve been re-reading Clear Springs, Kentucky Hall of Fame author Bobbie Ann Mason’s 1999 memoir. In the final pages are these words: “Lately she had been reviewing her life, reflecting on the hardships she had endured. She bridled at the way the women always had to serve the men. The men always sat down in the evening, but the women kept going. Why had the women agreed to that arrangement? How had they stood it? What if she had an opportunity for something different?”

How have we stood these last 4 years? Since when does an American of any political party agree to an arrangement in which our president cheers for the imprisonment of a perceived opponent? When did “Lock her up!” become funny?

Four years on, are you happier, sleeping better? Do you respect your neighbor, no matter the sign in their yard? Are you joyful, or have the Trump years turned you into some version of Jake, unapologetically angry? Do you want 4 more years of this?

To paraphrase Ms. Mason, this is our moment to reflect, an opportunity for something different.

Vote.

What a fact-check looks like

In his editorial of September 23, 2020, the Editor of The Anderson News wrote the following:

I assume the opinion piece he’s referring to is mine, and I would have gladly provided information to said editor had he asked for it. He did not ask. https://www.kentucky.com/article245786560.html

Here are the facts:

  1. I have contemporaneous text messages that I sent within minutes of leaving ACE Hardware in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky on August 2, 2020. This is the one I sent to my husband (who was out of town) and adult children at 9:52 a.m.:

  1. Within 48 hours, I filed detailed complaints with both the State of Kentucky (online) and the Anderson County Health Department (via telephone) wherein I reported employees and customers not wearing masks, and also exactly what was said to me by a customer as I was leaving the store.
  1. Through an Open Records Request to the Anderson County Health Department, I received a copy of a Nuisance Complaint Form dated August 24, 2020. It reads: “Employees not wearing masks. Customers not wearing masks,” and “Citation issued (1st) to manager Chris Dillon. Observed 3 customers in store not wearing masks – not being asked to put one on. Manager stated they will not require customers to wear them bec of potential loss of money.” 
  1. A Covid-19 Face Covering Citation was issued for non-compliance with Executive Order 2020-586 and Regulation 902 KAR 2:190E on August 24, 2020 at 1:15 p.m. 5.   On September 22, 2020 at 1:05 p.m., Lawrenceburg resident Luther White posted publicly on his Facebook page: “I just got banned by the owner or manager of Ace Hardware Lawrenceburg for employees and customers not wearing masks. That’s fine I will never buy a thing there again. And will be contacting Ace corporate about this. He asked me to come back to his office and the first thing he did was take his mask off in a little small office and proceed to accost me about some comments I made on Facebook. Telling me how he enforces employees and supposedly customers to wear a mask. And would not put his mask back on.”  (Note that prior to September 23, 2020 I did not know of, nor had I ever met, Mr. White. I was referred to his Facebook page by someone who read my column, and I stopped by Mr. White’s house to speak with him off the record.)
  1. On September 24, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. I spoke with Tim Wright, Public Health Director, Anderson County Health Department about the details in my column and my experience at ACE Hardware. 

CONCLUSION:  This is what a fact-check looks like. Based on these facts, there appears to be a pattern. And this is information the citizens of Anderson County should be made aware of during a pandemic that’s killed more than 200,000 Americans in the last 6 months.

Is this freedom?

Trump indoor rally, Nevada. Photo credit: Newsweek

“Who are you?” she wants to know. I have been on the phone with my stepmother for maybe five minutes. She is clearly agitated, having what we call “a bad day.” She wants to know why I haven’t called or visited and why I’m asking so many personal questions. I finally ask if Dad is around. “Well, he’s not my dad,” she huffs. Then, handing the phone to her husband, “And who are you? My grandfather? No wait, my great-grandfather?”

They have been married 46 years, since I was nine years old.

I last saw my dad and stepmother in November. She still recognized me in November. She still knew my dad was her husband in November, when we thought her end-stage, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was the worst thing we had to worry about.

In November, the word coronavirus was not yet common lexicon.

In November, my dad and I finally made up. We had not spoken for three years, since shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration. He voted for Trump. I was sickened by Trump. And tell me if you’ve heard this one before: We had our big falling out on Facebook. Plus, he and my stepmother live 320 miles away, in a small Missouri town, so not speaking came sadly easy.

But in November 2019, I drove over to see my stepmother, and my dad and I took a long, meandering drive. We stopped for Mexican food and a beer. We talked. He had questions. What did I think of Bevin losing to Beshear? Did this impeachment thing have legs? What to make of stronger storms and hurricanes and heatwaves, this climate crisis?

Enter the coronavirus. My stepmother’s health, mentally and physically, is deteriorating, and I worry about the stress of isolation and caregiving on my dad. I worry I will never hug my stepmother again. “The good news is,” Dad reminds me over the phone, as he explains how at least she can’t wander off and get lost, “her oxygen cord won’t let her get past the porch.”

I conjure an imagine of my beloved stepmother tied-up like a dog on a chain in the yard. Her lack of freedom, and his. When we hang up, I sob like a child.

I recently stopped at ACE Hardware in Lawrenceburg for those reflective number stickers you put on mailboxes. No one was wearing masks. I asked the clerk if there was a policy. “Not really,” he chuckled.

I said, “Y’all need to be wearing masks,” and as I walked out the sliding glass doors, the customer in line behind me yelled, “Fuck you, you fucking bitch.” The laughter of men trailed me out the door. I climbed into my truck, shaking mad, and instantly recalled the words of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”

“What’s wrong with people?” my dad said when I told him.

Last weekend I called Dad as I was finishing up a three-mile run. “You sound outta breath, kiddo.” He tries to be cheerful, but he’s had to unplug the house phone because his wife has taken to calling 911 at all hours to report someone is in her house, she’s scared, can they come right away. And my dad — 75 years old, exhausted by loneliness, by repeating himself, by changing the sheets, by keeping her from throwing away her medication — has to spend an hour on the porch with police, in the middle of the night, explaining.

Where we used to avoid talk of politics, now we use politics as a distraction. “You see the big crowd at the president’s Nevada rally last night?” I said to my dad, plopping myself down on a curb to catch my breath. “Packed in like sardines, hardly a mask in sight.”

“I say it again and again, kiddo, what’s wrong with people? Sixteen thousand fans at the Chiefs game. We couldn’t have fans at baseball, but we can do this?” He told me about a 9/11 remembrance he’d watched last week, how we came together as a country back then, adding. “We’ve sure shot all that to hell, now, haven’t we.”

“Who are you?” my stepmother wants to know. Which, as it turns out, is a question I often ask of myself these days, of friends and neighbors, of men at ACE Hardware, of the thousands attending Trump rallies railing on about their freedom. Of the president himself.

As of this writing, 194,000 Americans are dead. Health experts warn that number could reach 400,000 by year end. Why? Because we won’t wear masks and we won’t social distance. Such rules, folks say, impinge on their freedom.

Is this what freedom is? Because even my once-Trump-voting dad disagrees.

Who are you?

Our Air of Robust Innocence

Shortly after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden chose Senator Kamala Harris, a Black woman, as his vice presidential running mate, President Trump — ostensibly in the White House briefing room to discuss the coronavirus, which has killed 171,000 Americans in just five months — called Sen. Harris “extraordinarily nasty,” adding that she was “probably nastier even than Pocahontas,” his racist, derogatory nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

And no one was surprised.

Like many Americans this pandemic summer, I have been reading and thinking about what it means to be a person of color in this country. Not a day has gone by that I have not pictured that white police officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck as he called out for his mama. Not a day has gone by that I have not imagined the horror of Breonna Taylor’s slow and agonizing death after being shot multiple times, in her own apartment, by Louisville police, and the maddening delay in bringing her killers to justice. Not a day has gone by that I have not considered the overt racism — Charlottesville, the Muslim ban, brown children in cages at our southern border, branding Covid-19 the “China Virus,” and more — that has oozed like a venom from the occupant of the Oval Office.

This summer, reading has served as both my education and my antivenin, and one of the most important books I’ve come across is “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson.

In Chapter 8, I learned that when Nazi bureaucrats met in Nuremberg in June 1934, “They were looking to move quickly with their plans for racial separation and purity, and knew that the United States was centuries ahead of them with their anti-miscegenation statutes and race-based immigration bans.” Hitler praised our “near genocide of Native Americans and the exiling to reservations of those who had survived,” and “the Nazis were impressed by the American custom of lynching its subordinate caste of African-Americans, having become aware of the ritual torture and mutilations that typically accompanied them. Hitler especially marveled at the American knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death.”

A mere 84 years later, and in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, too many White Americans still maintain this air of robust innocence, all evidence to the contrary.

Consider this: On July 5, the New York Times reported “Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors,” and “Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, the data shows.” Could this be the reason our president — a man who declared neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “fine people” and whose gut reaction to a Black woman being nominated for vice president was to call her “nasty” and compare her derogatorily to “Pocahontas” — has no interest in a national plan to combat what he calls the “China virus?”

I often hear Trump voters dismiss the idea of systemic racism. George Floyd was killed by a police officer for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police inside her apartment on March 13, the same week we went on Covid-19 lockdown, and her killers have still not been brought to justice. As of this writing, 171,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and those deaths are disproportionately people of color.

If this is not systemic, what is?

Some weeks from now, Americans will vote to decide if Donald Trump deserves another venomous four years. What example will we set as the world looks on? Another literal guidebook for Nazi-like regimes, as in 1934, or something new and, in a word, anti-racist?

I leave you with this chilling paragraph from Wilkerson’s book: “Hitler had risen as an outside agitator, a cult figure enamored of pageantry and rallies with parades of people carrying torches that an observer said looked like rivers of fire. Hitler saw himself as the voice of the [people], of their grievances and fears, especially those in the rural districts, as God’s chosen savior, running on instinct. He had never held elected office before.”

Sound familiar?

In November, let’s vote for the democratic America we profess to be. The world will be watching.

___________

If you’re looking for books on race, I’ve recently read and loved the following:

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents — Isabel Wilkerson (non-fiction)
Real American — Julie Lythcott-Haims (memoir)
Citizen — Claudia Rankine (memoir)
How to be an Anti-Racist — Ibram X. Kendi (memoir)
The Nickel Boys — Colson Whitehead (fiction)
Brother, I’m Dying — Edwidge Danticat (memoir)
Between the World and Me — Ta’nehisi Coates (memoir)

Being president is too hard for this president

Congressman John Lewis to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda (photo by the New York Times)

Always go to the funeral. That was the rule, and it was non-negotiable. “Going to the funeral is the least you can do,” my mother would say. “You show up to show your respect, because it is the right thing to do.”

On July 17, Congressman John Lewis, Civil Rights icon and revered leader on both sides of the political aisle, died from pancreatic cancer. His body lies in-state in the Capitol rotunda. When asked if he would be attending the ceremony or stopping by the Capitol to pay his respects, President Trump said unequivically, “No, I won’t be going, no.”

Always go to the funeral, my mother said. How hard would it have been for the president to stop by the rotunda, to do the right thing, to pay his respects — respect John Lewis inarguably earned — to one of the last living leaders of the Civil Rights Movement?

And yet sadly, we are not surprised, because rarely does this president choose to do the right thing, the hard thing, the presidential thing, the thing that would bring comfort and peace.

Consider the state of unrest and pain in this country since the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25 under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. How hard would it have been for the president to talk about police brutality or systemic racism, to listen to communities in pain, to say the words “I am listening, I hear you, how can I help”?

How hard is it for President Trump to calm tensions, to bring peace, to say the words Black Lives Matter?

Apparently, too hard.

It has been widely reported that a Russian military intelligence unit was offering the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. and allied troops. On July 29, Axios reported “Trump has spoken to Putin at least eight times since intelligence about the alleged Russian bounties was reportedly included in the President’s Daily Brief — his written intelligence briefing — in late February.” When asked if he has ever asked Putin about the bounties, the president replied, “I have never discussed it with him.”

How hard is it for President Trump to tell a hostile power not to pay bonuses for killing American soldiers?

Apparently, too hard.

And then there is Covid-19. I keep reading news from other countries like New Zealand, where the federal government led from day one. Schools and workplaces have opened. They can already have weddings, funerals, sporting events, and concerts. Imagine (can you even imagine?) this.

But unlike New Zealand, our president chose to slough-off his responsibilities and turn everything over to the states: 50 states with 50 different plans. We are now more than four months in, with 150,000 deaths and counting. Here in Kentucky, some businesses are closing again. Travel is strongly discouraged. We do not know if or when schools will open. We cannot have sports or weddings or funerals. We are still — inexplicably, still — arguing about wearing masks and not crowding into bars.

How hard would it have been, back in February, for the president to pull all of the governors together with Drs. Fauci and Birx and Redfield, and lead with a singular, centralized plan? How hard would it have been for him to work with the states instead of fighting with them about everything from PPE to opening for church on Easter Sunday?

How hard would it have been, from the start, for him to lead by example and wear a damn mask?

Apparently, too hard.

We cannot, as my mother would say, go to the funerals. But we can do what the president seemingly cannot: We can show up and show respect. We can do what is right.

So, let us pray for the souls of George Floyd and Congressman John Lewis. Let us pray for everyone fighting to make Black Lives Matter. Let us pray that no U.S. soldier is killed for a bounty because our president lacks courage. Let us pray for the 150,000 families who are suffering, families our president never mentions.

I leave you with the words of Robert F. Kennedy from the extemporaneous eulogy he shared the night of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s death: What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of injustice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or black… Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago, “to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of the this world.”

A love letter to Lawrenceburg

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“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.” ~ Thornton Wilder, OUR TOWN

A few years ago, a woman born and raised here in Lawrenceburg told me she loves it here so much she would never, ever live anywhere else. When she met her future husband, he owned a nice home in the next county over. If he wanted her, she told him, he had to sell his house and move here. And he did. What better testament of love could there be?

I thought about this yesterday morning when I arrived in town to walk my dogs. There were 2 women on the corner carrying assault rifles, their fingers next to the trigger. There were some men with guns on their belts milling around the courthouse. Next to the door of the Judge Executive’s office stood the man who, over Memorial Day weekend, had hung an effigy of the governor at our State Capitol. He was smiling and chatting with another man.

I did not bother walking my dogs. I turned around and drove right back home.

Apparently, there has been a debate brewing here over whether or not to remove a statue of a confederate soldier on our courthouse lawn. A meeting was taking place at the Judge Executive’s office. I’ve been gone for a month, so I knew little about this.

But this I do know: If there are civilian men and women openly carrying weapons up and down Main Street, you will not see me on Main Street.

As a prominent, local woman whose family has lived here for generations said yesterday about these armed militia, “They are ruining our downtown. I’m afraid to go anywhere downtown.”

Yes, it is legal to open carry weapons in Kentucky. Legally, there is nothing city leadership or law enforcement can do. But consider the economic impact.

This was the top story on WKTY’s website yesterday. If you saw this story, would you consider opening a business here, investing your money here? Would you bring your family to spend the day? Stop for dinner after dark?

I love our town. I love my neighbors and friends. I love the county park. I love stopping for coffee and saying hello to Laura. I love the many specialty foods carefully stocked by Eric at Tastefully Kentucky. I love shopping at Sweet Mash and chatting with Tamara and Dawn. And everyone knows there is not a better sandwich in the state of Kentucky than at Heavens to Betsy.

I do not love being bullied off Main Street.

I do not love feeling threatened.

As a local woman posted on social media yesterday: “I like guns, I ENJOY guns! I own many. They’re fascinating. And some are just drop dead gorgeous. Others are brilliant! But this is threatening. And these women are intentionally using the guns to BE threatening. WHO is going to visit our downtown right now? Who is going to go to lunch or dinner? I obviously don’t know these women or I would call their cellphones and ask them to stop. This hurts our downtown and it hurts our Tourism. We NEED our tourists.”

In keeping with the language of Thornton Wilder, it is something has to do with human beings. And it’s going to take the human beings in power, in Lawrenceburg leadership, to tell these armed militia they are hurting our livelihood and our businesses, and that they are not welcome in Our Town.

The earrings

Today, I found a pair of earrings glistening in the bottom of my purse, tiny gold loops with a dangling, pale blue stone. The earrings are new. I wore them only once, on March 11.

Finding earrings in the bottom of your purse sounds trivial, doesn’t it? And yet, I have such vivid memories of that week, the last week things were normal. New earrings worn for the first time. Lunch with a new friend and his wife. The last time I saw my 10 month-old grandson. A small gathering of Lawrenceburg city leadership to celebrate our county attorney, Bobbi Jo Lewis, leaving to work in the Beshear administration.

Bobbi Jo, the last friend I hugged.

I teach personal essay and memoir writing at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. My students tend to be over 50, brand new to writing, and most importantly they have been waiting decades for this moment, for the time to finally tell their stories, to try to make some sense of the thing that keeps them awake at night.

My students are brave. And with rare exception, their stories are about loss.

One month into social distancing, we are all experiencing varying degrees of loss, our frustration and questions building into a crescendo over days that blend inexplicably together. When can I go back to work? Will my kids return to school? What happens if my elderly parents get sick, who will take care of them? When should I go to the grocery store, and how carefully do I need to disinfect the packages I bring home? I miss my friends, my routine, the life I had before. When will this be over? we want to know. When will life be back to normal?

I am trying to absorb less news and more art. On March 31, I listened to writer Brene Brown interview grief and loss expert, David Kessler. “We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew,” he said. “The world we knew is now gone forever. We talk about 9/11. Remember what the airports were like before 9/11? [One day] we’re going to talk about what the world was like before the pandemic. I don’t know how this is going to change, but it will. We are going to find meaning. We are going to come out the other side of this, and we are going to say things like ‘remember the old days when we used to shake hands, how crazy was that?’”

I was set to start teaching a new class at Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort on March 12. As silly as it seems now, I remember going back and forth several times with the owner of the park, the host, and the students. Surely we could figure something out, couldn’t we? We’d all been looking forward to this class so much! What if we postponed a week, would that help? What if we met in a larger room and spaced ourselves a few feet apart? We checked and rechecked the weather. It might be 70 degrees soon, could we meet outside?

And on and on until we surrendered. It was, after all, not the class we were fighting for. We were fighting for a normal that was already lost.

A month later, a month into social distancing, the losses are piling up. And yet I finally find myself looking more forward than back.

Kentucky poet Jayne Moore Waldrop’s “Eclipse” closes with these lines:

Last night we retraced our steps
in the moonlight,
over worn brick sidewalks in need of repair but still in service.
Beyond the quieted tower and darkened
windows we found the place
where we once toasted and laughed
and smiled for the cameras.
This time we took our own photograph,
the two of us,
then strolled on, fingers interlocked,
in wonder of everything to come.

Yes, there is so much loss, so much to keep us awake at night. We are scared. We are grieving. But in conversations and on social media I also see us finding new paths, new joys, and making our way to what comes next.

Today, I found new earrings in the bottom of my purse. And though no one will see them but me, I am going to put them on and wear them to a Zoom meeting (something I’d never even heard of back when I bought them) with my baby grandson. Here’s to the wonder, yes wonder, of everything to come.