Verb (n): a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence … such as hear, become, happen.
A year ago this week, I entered the Seattle airport to head for home with one word on my tongue: “Uh-oh.” I confess I had been largely oblivious to what was happening, although the state of Washington was then being referred to as the “epicenter.” I had just spent a few wonderful days with my son Stephen who had moved there to pursue the dream of doing so. We were all just learning about the pandemic; it was so early in our understanding that we had yet to call it that. But we would soon enough.
There were very few people in the airport. The plane was almost empty. I eavesdropped on stragglers’ conversations as they talked about their semesters being canceled and what it would be like to work from home. It was all expected to last a few weeks. We didn’t know then what we could not have predicted. And here we are.
There are those who have written off this past year, those who have understandably bemoaned feeling at a standstill in their beautiful lives. But when I consider the events of the past twelve months, I see action. Verbs. Life and living – different perhaps than what I had known – but not diminished. Here’s what I mean.
As life slowed, I savored things like music and seasons and the way the light shifts and changes at the beginning of each new day, like a Polaroid picture coming into full view.
Finding it difficult if not impossible to read entire books, I turned instead to poetry, reading especially the work of nature poets, inviting words to pour over and nourish me like a summer rain. And then I took the poem’s echo with me into the woods where I watched trees bud and blossom. I marveled at the way the leaves unfurled and then, as time passed, how they changed to gold, orange and red. I picked up some and pressed them into unread books to preserve their beauty. As the days shortened and the air grew cold, I watched the naked branches, covered in snow, imitate Narnia in all its splendor. The awareness alone was astonishing.
I sat for endless hours in chairs teaching and grading, which to be honest felt counterintuitive much of the time. And so, I invited opportunities that would allow me to be a consequential stranger in the world. This led me to reunite with past loves like the library, which is now one of the places I get to work, serving people in all their gorgeous three-dimensionality.
I marched with those who have been marginalized and stood listening, candle in hand, to the trials of the oppressed. I chanted, “Black Lives Matter!” and balked against rebuffs. I vowed to learn and listen and grow and call out those who too often speak out of ignorance and prejudice instead of love.
I mourned and grieved and celebrated and cried. I said goodbye to family members and close friends, I clung to both the memories and faith required to carry me through. I cling still.
I am not healed, and neither are we. But in the midst of so much loss, what I see when I look at this past year in retrospect is not the negative self-fulling prophecy of “uh-oh.” What I see is life burning brightly.
Collectively, we may be bruised, but we are not broken. If we take the time to identify the verbs, they tell us, perhaps surprisingly, there was life in it all along. And if we are both fortunate and aware, there is the deep and abiding promise that there is so much more waiting for us in the time to come.
Eileen Button teaches at Mott Community College and serves patrons at the Genesee District Library. She can be reached at button. firstname.lastname@example.org.