During this quarantine, Sushil and I have tried to make the best of things. We recognize that, as this New York Times Op-Ed suggests, the challenges we face are “not in the same universe” as essential workers or those no longer able to work at all. But the piece also suggests that few of us seem to be doing more than just surviving. As my good friend Leena suggested the other day, “We aren’t working from home, we are living at work.” Indeed. With our toddler. To say the least, the experience has been surreal.
The responsibility of designing a hybrid school with an anti-racist curriculum for the 20-21 school year — shaping it, defining it, training teachers for it — has had an urgency unlike any kind of school change I’ve experienced to date, and yet, I was doing this work in between nap-time and dishes, laundry and board games, and sometimes in my “third shift,” starting at 9 pm and ending in early hours of the morning. My focus felt fragmented into distinct planes that could not intersect. Emotionally, I felt as heartbroken to shush my child during a 90-minute Zoom as I was to sign off a meeting unfulfilled. I never quite found the rhythm that we were all advised to create. For much of this spring, I felt caught in a vortex that left me numb.
Yesterday, to get away from it all, we drove out to World’s End, one of the properties of the Trustees of the Reservation here in Massachusetts. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the walking paths position themselves to nature in such a way that the walker can’t see further than what’s in front of them, but in the gentlest of ways: every bend in the path unveils a slightly new horizon, one that feels as if it is building off of what came just before, until what comes into view is the Boston skyline emerging ever so faintly over the Boston Harbor Islands. Sushil proposed to me at World’s End, and we usually make an annual trip to return to the place where we began.
As Route 54 became more residential on our way into town of Hingham, I started to notice the hearts. Some with red cross insignia, some with HOPE written across the top, some made by children, some by artists. This was no coincidence, I could tell. About two miles outside of the town center, we began to connect the dots. At a smallish intersection off Main Street, we saw a roadside kiosk labeled “Signs of Hope.” You pick up your sign, drop a $20 bill into the paybox, and head off with your sign of hope. A local company, Rustic Marlin, had focused their efforts on sign-making. On our way back home, we picked up two.
To say the least, I am unabashedly into hearts. No shame here in wearing heart jewelry in my forties. No shame in heart home decor either. Think about the blog you’re reading, after all. Moreso now than at any stage of my girlhood, the heart is a symbol of joy and strength.
And yet, it must be said: that the signs are just signs, that they don’t actually do anything to solve either of our national pandemics, Covid-19 or our country’s inability to fully take on our history of racism and white supremacy. It must be said that a Black Lives Matter sign carries both more substance and more power. And I should note that no such signs were at the kiosk. I should note, too, that the town of Hingham is 98% white and carries its own, complicated history of racism. The signs, in their apolitical context, discredit the inequities and injustices of our current moment entirely. All of these statements are true.
At the same time, when I saw those signs, in windows and on porches, on every single home I passed, I felt the familiarity of community. Immersed in my own work and family, I had somehow forgotten about this larger possibility of collective hope. And, perhaps because of the power of this collective, I felt my own humanity returning.
Throughout both our pandemics, I’ve found myself thinking that nothing will ever be the same. I still believe this to be true. From schools to healthcare, food services to playgrounds, I’m not seeing an ability to “return” to normal. And though I’d like to say that our humanity is the one thing that remains in tact, I think our humanity has changed, too. Perhaps it requires a double-pandemic to help us see the extremes we are capable of creating as a society. And perhaps we needed, by force, to look squarely at this reality to discover one another’s humanity in the face of crisis.
Since discovering the kiosk, I’ve been shipping signs of hope to friends and family members whose own stories have been far more challenging than mine. The pandemic hasn’t stopped marriages from falling apart, cancer cells from attacking the human body, biking accidents from dislocating the bones of a busy mom trying to get their kids in nature. It certainly hasn’t stopped our country’s deepest grievances to re-live themselves, if not be amplified. I’ve also sent the owners of Rustic Marlin a plea to create a sign that upholds the lives of black American and condemns all forms of racism and bigotry. With each action, I feel as though I am sending strength, a reminder of our ability to prevail and heal, as individuals, as communities, and as a society, and drive us to act in solidarity for what is right. I know it will take more than sending signs of hope, but I’m starting there, for now, as I begin to find a version of myself that has begun to feel whole.