We found it ironic that just as the sadness and troubles of the world followed us to our little vacation at Seagrove Beach, the bands of Tropical Storm Cristobal followed us back to Birmingham yesterday and stayed with us. Truly the current chaos of life being reflected through nature. There is no escaping the reality of the impact of the virus or the deep racial and political divides, no matter how desperately we may want there to be.
Neither of us slept the night before our drive home- a day early due to the severe weather. I lay awake listening to the pounding rain and howling winds, the chaos making me feel agitated and fearful. Our “rustic” cabin was pretty ramshackle, a very rough diamond among all of the beach McMansions, and I didn’t trust that the roof wouldn’t fly off during the night. I finally got up and camped out on the squeaky futon with Marley, watching the rain and palm trees as they rocked and swayed through the large windows.
At around 6:30am, the rain slowed considerably. I called to Dan and told him that if we were going to go, this might be our only window. Just as I headed out to walk Marley, the torrential rain came down again. I pulled my baseball cap down more tightly and headed out anyway. Everything was flooded; fun or no, we needed to load the car and bikes and head to Birmingham; either that or we’d be trapped at Dry Dock for another day, worrying rather than the relaxing we’d hoped to be doing. While we enjoyed so many things about our trip, this vacay was anything but relaxing.
We loaded the bikes and packed up the car in pouring rain, determined to get on the road no matter what. Not quite the ending to our vacation that we’d planned, but we knew we’d made the right decision; it was time to go home. We double-checked the cottage making sure to leave it ‘Gainey neat as a pin’, loaded Marley into the back seat, and headed out into the flooding and rain.
We were exhausted by the time we got home to Chez Gainey, but were grateful to be back in our home where we feel so comfortable and grounded. Shiva was happy to see us (or as happy as Shiva ever is), we checked on fountains, gardens, and mail. How wonderful that we have a place that no matter where we go in the world, we are so very happy to return to it.
Today I have felt so strange. It was wonderful to be back in our own bed, wonderful to be back in our home and following our normal routines. But…I felt exhausted from so little sleep, anxious about my to-do list of things to get done for work and my professional organization, lethargic. I felt the weight of the world resting on my shoulders again after checking in with the news. Planning for the trip was such a good distraction from all of the stress and sadness, but now I felt a sort of postpartum.
In all honesty, I don’t really want to escape the pervasive sadness of this time. I want to help change things, to move things in the right direction in whatever small ways that I am able. As a teacher, I owe it to my students and to my wonderfully diverse and culturally rich community here in Birmingham. It’s so easy to sit back and assume others will do the hard work of change, but it will take all of us leaving our comfort zones, having the difficult conversations, being willing to make our own changes in thinking and actions for the greater good. I’m reading, I’m talking to friends of color, I’m watching town halls. I have always thought of myself as an advocate for the oppressed, but I’m discovering that I need to do so much more, as there is so much work to do. Dan and I have had wonderfully deep discussions about how we can help effect change, one small step at a time.
As I always admit, I don’t know all of the answers. I just know it’s time for us to listen to the people who are living with racism and prejudice every day and not recess back into our turtle shells. I think of my students of color, my gay and lesbian students, all of whom I love dearly and all of whom I have no clue what they are really facing each day in this world. I can only say that I am trying my best to learn and to help in any way that I can, and to be here for them with love and support. If I can’t do that for them, I don’t deserve to be their teacher.
I started out looking for the calm in the storm, but I think my goal has changed. I want to face the storm, walk into it hand in hand with the oppressed, hoping that I can help to change at least one closed mind or one hard heart, helping them see that we only truly rise when we all rise together. I can’t look myself in the mirror if I don’t do my part to help. There is nothing to fear when love and acceptance are the primary goals. I know that with all my heart.