Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Taste of Walden

At the beginning of sheltering, there was a hilarious short video clip in which someone was explaining to a man: “You will be sheltering in place at home for a while and there’s two choices. Plan A is to be with your wife and family and Plan B…” The man quickly interrupts: “Plan B. Definitely. I’ll take Plan B.”

So here we are finishing the fourth calendar month of sheltering and I’ve been in Plan A, first with my wife, daughter and grandchildren for two weeks and then three months straight with my wife. We have been married 41 years now and one of the secrets of our longevity is a healthy dose of time apart. Throughout most of the four decades working together at school, I had Mondays off and she had Fridays off, giving us both a day alone in the house. Starting in the 90’s, I had anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks of summer courses. In the last 20 years, I’ve had anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months off during the year and some of that was traveling and teaching—by myself. And then she started taking art classes in France, Maine or Morocco. 

So we’ve always had a healthy dose of time apart. Until now. My daughter invited me over for a Father’s Day dinner last week and my wife commented that it was the first time she ate alone since sheltering began. And now she’s backpacking with that daughter and I have the house to myself for three days. Amazing!!

Before my time in my personal Walden was on planes and in hotel rooms and it is rare that it is in my own house. But in either case, it’s time I need. To be the only mood in the house, to settle into one’s own rhythm with no interruption, to play piano without someone closing the door or having to negotiate where my online class is going to be. To choose the lighting, to decide the dinner and wash the dishes at my own time. No matter how lovely your relationship, this is just healthy. From both ends. 

And so here I am in my second day and night. Today was the second day of my online Jazz Course, so different from New Orleans last year, but still vibrant and fun. The lunch in the garden, the bike ride through the park, the gazpacho and salad dinner and some glorious time with Bach, Chopin and a few jazz standards. And then the silence and stillness in the house is yet another glorious musical harmony, a little piece of Solitude that Thoreau would have appreciated. 

And now July. July and August used to be the two months of deep summer uninterrupted by school, but in the past decade or two, the first day of school has crept further and further back into August. This year staff has to be back on August 12th!! Blasphemy!

But not me! Retirement for me is clearly a shift in work rather than the cessation of work, but the choice to make my summer exactly as long as I want and need it already feels like the first delicious taste of freedom. The freedom to be not be at the mercy of other’s decisions is one I already am savoring.

Of course, one is never wholly free. Our fake leader’s refusal to lead in times of crisis puts us all in danger from his refusal to be decisive about what’s so clearly needed and the incapacity of so many of our citizens to understand that “my freedom to extend my arm goes as far as your face” is the only kind of freedom we should be attending to. 

But for the moment, I am master of my domain and I refuse to let any more of these thoughts and complaints into my house for the moment. It’s a time to look back at June and marvel at what feels like a lifetime of events. The month began with my hour-long farewell slide-show/ songs/ stories to school, the closing ceremonies, graduation speeches, farewell to staff, my last report card, a last online alum sing and neighborhood sing. All of that already feels like a lifetime ago! Then three online workshops with Russia, two with Iran, one (just finished) about my latest book, one (in process) about my two jazz books. Not to mention the horrific and hopeful events around the country with more police brutality and more folks out on the streets for the right reason. Hard to remember the July’s of yesteryear with long days with the ice cream truck passing by, lemonades on the lakeside deck, afternoon swims and naps on the beach. Will the intensity ease up? We shall see.

But whether or no, my hopes that this new level of reflection and inward turning will continue, that we all will seek in our own way our taste of Walden to remember what’s important in this life, to observe, to partake, to savor, to be still, to breathe the fresh morning air and take time to watch the sun set, whether alone or in company with our loved ones. Grandson Malik’s 5thbirthday to kick it off, my 69thbirthday to close it out, we shall see what awaits. 

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