Melissa Soderberg, Head of School
Dear Families and Friends,
I need the kind of rest I know I will not be able to get any time soon. I wonder if many of us feel this way. Vacation is coming, but it seems to introduce more dilemmas; more arduous detours around familiar and comfortable habits, asking for a level of creativity that was depleted months ago.
And then there is the threat of illness. The pandemic surges the moment we seek comfort in gathering, in celebrating, in welcoming others to our homes as social beings. Isolation is expected, and called for (it is the mature and responsible thing to do), but it hardly feeds the human spirit in the way our spirits need to be soothed.
So far this year I seem to vacillate (and I have watched many others do so, too) between anger and gratitude in my individual and collective effort to move forward through this time of deep change. Anger is clarifying. In a time of profound ambiguity, rage can feel like action – like problem solving – or at least it can shift our sense of paralysis in the moment by blaming others. Gratitude centers around our connections to each other; our need for collective reliance to get through this difficult time. But appreciation can also feel forced or insincere when expressed for something that only months earlier would have been ordinary at best.
While our immediate range of feelings are genuine, they are not terribly productive, and I have sought other outlets than cataloguing my emotions and working to control them in appropriate ways.
HOS Reading to 1st-Graders
I can always turn towards the life of students at school. Visiting lower school classrooms and reading to delighted faces, walking through middle school hallways to hear the lively discussions generated by enthusiastic teachers, or taking in the artwork and creativity produced by our upper-schoolers (examples of which can be enjoyed in this video shared yesterday during advisory gatherings) reminds me of all the wonderful moments created each day.
I am not ashamed to admit that I also have found some of the best solace in the most mundane places: in the view out my window, in the leafless trees on the senior quad as their branches spike into the bright blue sky, in the crunch of early frost underfoot when I venture to the dining hall, in the familiarity of low-skidding clouds on gray days as they roll past campus with purpose and destination.
“The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon,” Emerson wrote. “We are never tired so long as we can see far enough” (Nature 1836). Though I am not a Transcendentalist by any imagination, there seems to me no truer claim that what we need most right now for our well-being is a sense of the scope of our circumstances – to know where the horizon lies or when things will end and begin again.
It’s as if we are all struck with a great bout of seasickness. Rocking up and down and side to side, knocked out of balance, our only antidote is to pull our attention from the crests and troughs to seek equilibrium in what we can see ahead – what we can find in the natural world that offers peace and balance. Like traveling, too, we will end up in another place when our journey is over… if not physically, then at least shaped by the experience itself. While the future is so uncertain, our greatest opportunity is to discover what is good and satisfying right in this moment, and the out-of-doors seems to await our attention.
Below are two poems that have given me that pause of sweetness and solace I so crave in the midst of uncertainty. They reach out to nature with particular candor. I offer them in case they may touch you in the same way. Feel free to send me the poems that have helped you find balance and energy in these strange times, I will be sure to read them.
Take care,
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendall Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Questions while searching for birds with my half-white sons, aged six and nine, National Audubon Bird Count Day, Oxford, MS from World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathi
If we are going to look for birds all day, is anyone going to be looking for us if we get lost?
I thought you said God has his eye on every sparrow, so why are we counting if He already knows?
Is there a bathroom nearby?
Why won’t you let me bring my telescope? There might be birds flying way, way up there, but we can’t see them and then we’ll mess up The Count.
Why do lady cardinals look so sad and boy cardinals look like they are going to a party?
Someone at school said bees are going missing and if we don’t see any more bees, we’re going to go missing, too. Is that true?
I don’t want to be missing. But if I am, can I be missing with you, Mommy?
What about Daddy? I don’t want Daddy to be missing.
What is camouflage?
If I wear red and stand behind a cardinal, would you still be able to see the cardinal, or would you only see me?
But isn’t that scary for the boy cardinal? He can’t camouflage on anything except a red wall. Or my red shirt.
Lady cardinals are lucky! You can hardly see them.
Mommy, you are like a lady cardinal because you are brown.
Why do you have better camouflage than Daddy?
Right now, I have medium camouflage.
Will I be brown or white when I grow up?
Why do some white people not like brown people?
Don’t worry, Mommy, you can hide in the forest from those bad people. You have good camouflage.
Can I have good camouflage even though I’m half and half?
At school we have to hide under our desks in case of bad people. We did that last week.
It’s called Lockdown! We have to be quiet like what we’re doing now while we wait for birds.
Why are there people who hunt kids?
If hawks are circling around us, does that mean they think one of us might be good to hunt?
Is there a bathroom nearby?
Why is the redbud tree not called a purplebud tree? All the flowers are purple.
Do hummingbirds ever get tired from flying and just want to swim and float in the water for a while?
Is there anything for them to snack on when they are flying above the ocean, or do they just snack on air and pretend it is a flower?
I think the blue heron is very suspicious. He’s so frozen, I feel bad for the frogs and fish that think he is just a bird statue.
If I saw a bunch of turkey vultures looking at the house with their wings out, I would think something scary was going to happen.
Remember when we watched that lady put a tag on a hummingbird?
I bet he didn’t like that, and when he got to Mexico, the other birds laughed and asked, “What’s wrong with your ankle?”
Remember another lady painted a bird on my face at the festival and you made me wash it off at night? I was very sad.
Do birds have eyelids?
Do they ever close them when they fly?
Do they know how to wink at us? Because I think I saw a brown thrasher wink at me last week but I didn’t tell anyone.
Is there a bathroom nearby now?
What happens if there is a bird count when I’m forty and we don’t find any birds?
Will you be missing when I’m forty? Will you be missing when I’m sixty?
Mommy! What if there were a hundred more green birds in the forest right now, and we just didn’t know it? And they were all camouflaged and watching us with our notepads, and we couldn’t see them, and they were giggling and telling each other our bird count is all wrong?
Birds don’t giggle.
What if they were winking at each other then?