By Allyson Wuerth
So many days have I wished for a slower pace—even just one day where I could breathe in and breathe out, a day when I didn’t run out of my house at exactly 6:21 every morning, dart off to Starbucks for my Venti English Breakfast hot tea, and then to school (usually arriving by 6:40) to start my work day. It was only just a month ago that I’d stand outside my classroom door, arms loaded with all the trappings of a long week ahead: books, papers to grade, lesson planner, snacks for my club meetings, gym clothes for the end of the work day, etc. I’d stand there frozen, knowing that to shift my arm and grab the door key from my coat pocket would upset the delicate balance of all that I held in my arms, angry with myself for *yet again* forgetting to wrap the lanyard around my wrist. Sometimes, I’d carefully squat down and place each bag, each item, gently onto the hallway floor. Drop all of it—tea, books, purse, snacks, bags—and just luxuriate in the moment of all those lost things, all that heaviness left to the side while I unlock my door and walk, unencumbered, inside the dark room behind it. Only then, after I turned on the lights, switched on my computer, would I go back for that stuff and bring it into my classroom in small, manageable batches. Other days, I risked it all—too rushed even to take that one moment of weightlessness. I’d position my Starbucks against my chest, force my chest against the classroom door (gently, so as not to squish the cup and burn myself on all that hot tea), while with my left hand (bags still saddled to my wrists) I fished around my right coat pocket until the key could be procured and jammed in the door. Then I’d leave the key in the lock so I could reclaim the Starbucks cup and carefully use my right thumb and index finger to twist the knob just enough to crack the door open. Those mornings I’d burst into the room, exasperated by all the things I held. I’d plop it all down in a big scrambled pile on my desk chair. Then I’d sort through the bags, items, everything and organize accordingly. By 9:36am, my FitBit had already logged nearly 4,000 steps—from home, to car, to Starbucks, to school, to copier, to a working copier, okay ONE more copier (for the love of god, this one better work), to mailbox, bathroom, class, copies, bathroom. You get it. When the school day ended at 2:49 pm, I’d either advise a club until 3:15 or work out in the school gym. This is when my FitBit would send me a congratulatory vibration for hitting my 10,000 steps. What next? Pick your day. Do I have a doctor’s appointment (diabetics always do)? Do my kids have sports (kids always do)? Can I squeeze in an errand anywhere in my day? Needless to say, by 9 pm, I’m showered and comatose in bed, ready to start it all over tomorrow. Every day a gauzy blur bleeding into the next.
But not anymore.
Now, my life is a stopped clock, a suspended thought bubble waiting to be filled once again. The entire world is this same clock, this same empty thought. We all lie in wait for someone to hit the buzzer, shoot the gun, plug us in again. It occurred to me the other day, I didn’t think I’d feel this level of awareness ever again—the kind of hyper-awareness you feel as a teenager, only without the hype. But now, I’m noticing it all—the birds surrounding our bird feeder aren’t just birds; they’re grackles, Eastern blue-jays, female cardinals, goldfinches. I know this because my 10yr old and I look them up in the Field Guide of Birds of North America book we never had time to open before.
The framed cross-stitch and embroidery I collect from thrift stores and hang up all over my house isn’t just someone’s discarded ephemera that I happen to love the look of—it was crafted by a grandmother, a child or a mother—a pattern followed with precision and grace, given as a gift or as a very tangible imploration “Please never forget who I was or how much I loved you.” Some initialed. Others left anonymous as any mystery is, but professionally matted and framed by stores in New Haven or Boonton, New Jersey that went out of business fifty years prior. A floral piece in my living room has a pink note attached to it, dated August 13, 1972. It’s from a girl named Marylou and gifted to her (friend? Teacher? Neighbor?) Mrs. Meyers. How did I hang this picture without noticing the letter taped rather conspicuously to the back of it? Did I see the letter but just not bother to read it? Marylou wanted to do something special for Mrs. Meyers, something “unusual but original.” She thought about it long and hard before putting needle to fabric. The gift had to be handmade, because Mrs. Meyers was that special to Marylou.
One by one, I take them down from my walls, checking each for messages, incommunicable feelings unraveled into flowers and small animals.
Another piece hangs above the French doors in my kitchen: a cat blowing bubbles. It was a Christmas gift from a great-grandmother to her “new” great-grand daughter. The year is once again, 1972. Already, she loves this baby girl, creates her something lasting and tagged with the initials of a forgotten old woman. As I begin my very first embroidery project (the simplest pattern I could find on Amazon), I think about finishing it and then being proud enough of my effort to get it framed, and prouder still to give it to a loved one. And then, fifty years later, there it is at Goodwill for $2.99. And no one is left alive to remember how very much one person loved another, how wholly love could endure in such stitches and seams.
Please don’t misread this. Covid-19 is changing lives in terrible ways. I live in terror of the people I love, or any people, really, contracting this awful illness. For as much as I loathe Covid, I love being a teacher and having the resources and support from my administration where I can still communicate effectively with my students every day despite our physical separation. Unlike other public servants, I can still do my job without putting my life in danger. For that, I am endlessly grateful.
As hectic as life can be, most of us, including myself, would not change ours for the world! But buildings and stores are closed. The baseball season is cancelled. Gymnastics—cancelled. Routine doctor visits—rescheduled. So, I’m going to use this time to open myself to my senses, to learn more about my children, to watch them—even smack dab in the middle of a brisk, sunny Tuesday—play basketball together in the yard: a moody teenager and his exhaustively energetic little sister, together for the first time in longer than I can remember. The thought of it catches in my throat, pools in my eyes. Their laughter cutting into the blustery day around them as the wind blows their ball off course yet again. It’s a collage of moments I harvest and sink deep inside me: the woven laughter of my children, the mid-day sun, the wind knotting up my daughter’s long hair—all of it fastened to my heart no matter how fast I need to go.