There are many things to be sad and angry about. I wept while watching “Public Trust“, a documentary on the privatization of wilderness areas. My friend’s marriage, so brittle it may crumble any day now, moves me to tears. Watching politicians spew nonsense on the world stage disgusts me. Violence and heartache is happening on a global scale, and yet there are still small things, tiny things, that sadden me.
I’m sad that dancing is no longer socially appropriate and that Vivian is not allowed to sing in music class. “We can only watch videos of other people singing, but we can’t sing ourselves,” she tells me.
I’m sad that I didn’t get to scream and clap while runners tore past me, heading for the cross-country finish line, this fall. I’m sad that volleyball season is halfway done and Belén and Susanna haven’t been on the court even once. I’m sad that schools have become institutions of isolation, even though I know it’s necessary. I grieve the systemic separation and loneliness, the one-way hallways, the gathering spaces and rituals once used for community-building that are now roped-off or squelched. I’m sad that Susanna’s first year of high school is different than Belén promised her it would be. I’m sad that instead of working face-to-face with university students, we stare at each other through screens and apologize about garbled connections and fumble with our keys when the screen goes blank. I’m sad we had to cancel the reservation we made to spend a week with uncles and aunts and cousins and grandparents in a cabin in Minnesota. And I’m sad that even though it’s been more than a year since we’ve seen each other we still cannot make plans to reunite.
Belén picks some straggling blooms from our garden, pounds them into unbleached cotton and sews a mask that she “absolutely can’t wait to wear”. Vivian and I helped her gather violets and pansies and all of us fought for a chance to hit the rubber mallet against fabric and cement. It felt good to smash something, waiting for beauty to come of it.
Although Vivian is restricted to a featureless rectangle of grass during recess this week, I know there is joy and play at school. When I tuck her in at bedtime and ask where she saw God that day she looks at me for a moment then starts rearranging her stuffed animals. I don’t think my question registers so I add, “You know, sometimes you can see Jesus in other people.”
She rolls onto her tummy, then back and starts kicking the bunk overhead. I think she is ignoring me. Suddenly she stops. “I see Jesus in my teacher,” she says.
“Yeah,” she says, “When she walks towards me.”
Vivian is acutely attuned to fashion. I wonder if the teacher was wearing sequins or sparkles, or perhaps something pink or purple that day.
“I see Jesus when she comes beside me to listen to my words. She’s the best teacher in the world!” Then she starts bucking around again and I get out and shut off her light.
We order pizza with a “drizzle of local honey”, as recommended by the waitress, and ask about the artwork on the chalkboard. “The dishwasher does it,” the waitress replies. “Isn’t it beautiful? He came from Vietnam four years ago and is a graphic designer but hasn’t found a job in his field.”
After dinner we head next door to the Broadway Theatre. We saw an advertisement for an improv comedy show, and though both girls have doubts and we’ve never heard of the comedians, we decide to go. “It’s live, girls,” I had said to convince them. “If someone’s willing to go on stage and bare their heart, we’ll watch them.”
We open the theatre doors and are greeted by the smell of popcorn and a man that seems very happy to see us. We soon learn, as he hops on stage to introduce the show, that he is the theatre manager. Surveying the sparse and socially-distant crowd, he slowly raises his mic. “Thank you,” he says, then pauses. “It’s been eight months since we’ve hosted a show here…” His voice trails off. We can’t see his lips, but his mask doesn’t hide the emotion. Even though he is silent, something about the way his eyes crinkle and head turns ever so slightly, we know he is crying. The audience waits.
After a moment, he continues. “It is an honour and a privilege to be together with you tonight. We’re so thankful you’ve decided to wear your masks and support live entertainment. You are smart and you are beautiful!”
I squeeze my girls’ hands and a tear rolls into my mask. Then we clap as hard as we can. The show hasn’t even started and I’m already glad we came. I’ve been to a lot of performances in my life and I’ve never heard an introduction that was as grateful and heartfelt as this one.
The spotlight shifts and the actors walk on stage as the audience welcomes them warmly, with the words “smart” and “beautiful” still ringing in our ears. Story lines develop, characters react, pivot and keep us believing. I feel Belén’s shoulders shake beside me. Not everything is clever or hilarious, some lines fall flat and other responses miss the mark, but all of it is stunning; the courage, the creativity, the skill, and the quick-thinking of the actors. There is a thrilling elegance when real actors interact and feed off each other in real-time before our eyes.
When we leave our seats and walk back to our parking spot in the dark, we talk about how none of it was rehearsed or scripted. How did the actors push their limits so far, and the other actors’ limits–suggesting new information, accents or even requiring their colleagues to answer in haiku–without knowing how it would all work out? How could they see their way through the twisted plot line when any reasonable ending seemed out of reach?
Thanksgiving Day has passed. My Auntie Erika posted a picture of a pumpkin she decorated with words describing everything she is thankful for. I think it’s a wonderful idea and plan to do something similar, but we still haven’t gotten to it. I need a little more time. I need Thanksgiving to last longer than a day or a weekend. Perhaps I’ll institute my own entire season of Thanksgiving, at least while all my small “sadnesses” last. Because during this world-wide pandemic there are still smart and beautiful people in the audience. There are actors who say yes to every line they’re offered. There are dishwashers choosing to make art. There are teachers listening to six-year-olds trying their French. And there is at least one person wearing a mask pounded with flowers.