When I was 21 I went to Europe on a five-week student tour with my best friends. On our last day we were in England, and we went on a boat ride down the Thames to Greenwich. I have several memories of that day, a few funny stories, conversations, photos, but there was one image that particularly endures. At some point, I’m not even sure when, but I looked up across a field or down from a hill. The sky was a deep purple, heavy with rain clouds, the grass was green and slick, the colors striking in their vivid contrast, and I thought, I’ve never seen anything like this, have I? Such intense colors, such beauty. The sky doesn’t get like this in California, does it? Have I been inattentive? Has it been this way all along and I simply never noticed it before?
That thought reminded me of the chapter about 12-year-old John Huff, friend of protagonist Douglas Spaulding in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, required reading sophomore year of high school. John’s father got a job eighty miles away in Milwaukee, so the family was moving away from their home town in Illinois. The night before he boards the train, John sits with Douglas under an oak tree on a hill overlooking their town, and Doug notices that his friend is disturbed. John mentions a particular house where a family they know lives:
“’The colored windowpanes on the little round windows, have they always been there?’
‘Darned old windows have been there since before we were born. Why?’
‘I never saw them before today,’ said John. ‘On the way walking through town I looked up and there they were. Doug, what was I doing all these years I didn’t see them. . .if I didn’t see these windows until today, what else did I miss?’”
It’s been over forty years since I was in Greenwich, but I think of that sky every time I see such intense colors before a storm. It true, it’s not quite the same here, but it’s still beautiful.
I remember sitting in the back yard of my first apartment in midtown in autumn watching my two gray tabby cats racing up the back steps, the green of the unkempt lawn a vivid contrast with the dark sky. I remember a sky like that hanging over a noon-time recess as I watched my students running from concrete to green grass. And I saw it again two hours ago when I drew the kitchen shade down, the sun fighting purple clouds for dominance, low in the sky over the houses across the street.
I even put the image in a poem once: I called it “a sky bruised with purple longing.” The poem wasn’t memorable, but I may use the metaphor again someday. Be warned: you can’t have it. It’s mine.
We don’t know what’s going to happen now. Of course we never really know what’s going to happen, but this is particularly strange. Surreal even. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.
It’s okay to say we’re scared. We should be scared. A friend of mine lowered her voice on the phone last week to say she was glad our parents—both hers and mine–were dead now, as are the parents of most of our high school friends that we hang out with. Those who have children, their children are mostly grown and launched. Our hearts go out to those caring for school-aged youngsters, and those who are care-givers to elders. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for them. Me—I find myself bursting into tears when I’m driving home from my few, infrequent trips to the grocery store and farmer’s market. I don’t know why. Once I thought of my mother, how I cried for her on election night in 2016, thankful that she didn’t live to see Donald Trump become president. Now this. Thank God she didn’t live to see this. Another day I suddenly remembered two of my cousins who died of AIDS nearly thirty years ago. Another time, another plague. Who might we lose this time?
I’d like to say something that might be calming, healing even, but I got nothin’. I will say that I am very grateful for my health, my secure financial situation, my brother and friends who are just a phone call, email or text away, my two affectionate feline companions, my neighbors who have reached out to offer help if needed. I am also very grateful right now for my own introverted nature because I am well-suited to meet the challenge of these times with a minimum of anxiety. I affirm and pray that we will come out of this a stronger community, a people filled with the wonder of spirit.
I will continue to post here, because hey—I’ve got plenty of time, right? In fact, truth be told, I’ve already got posts lined up through mid-May. I had to do something to keep me busy during that first week of “sheltering in place,” but I’ve slowed down now. Oddly, I have no desire to clean the house, which is my usual move when things get out of control. I want to write, I intend to write. I hope the house is a big mess when we finally get the “all clear” signal.
If you’re looking for something to read, I recommend Dandelion Wine. It’s a nice book, an optimistic book. I wouldn’t call it science fiction; I’d say it falls more into the realm of magical realism. And in case you didn’t know, Ray Bradbury was an amazing poet. His prose sings! If you have nice books or movies to recommend, maybe something funny, please let me know.
Take good care, and keep in touch.
If you’d like to read more essays like this one, please download my e-book Wild Imaginings by filling out the form on the right.
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash.