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.