out here

So, if you’ve been here recently, you saw the start of what I thought was going to be a frequent series of posts from my June travels in Spain. But the breakneck pace of the seminar, coupled with not-so-frequent access to WiFi, meant that project died on the vine. I also intended to send out many postcards—of which I have already written half a dozen—but we were never within shouting distance of a post office during regular opening hours.

(Perhaps more on Spain in a later post, but I think there was exactly one afternoon—the last afternoon—that wasn’t scheduled, and during that rainy day, I went museum-seeking with another seminar friend. But every day was full of awesomeness; I am in no way complaining. Just trying to explain what the deal with postcards was in case you, reader, are someone who gets a postcard with Spanish monuments on it, a date of early June, and a postmark from central PA, sometime in October.)

Really, for almost two weeks, I felt like I was living outside of time, and that was compounded by three days of walking the Camino de Santiago. Most of that walking time was spent in the countryside, ambling between small towns and villages and clusters of four or five houses that were easily hundreds of years old and still housing people eking a living from the land.

Gathering for dinner one night in O Pedrouzo, before our final day of walking, we heard about the massacre in Orlando: someone had been able to get online enough to get the news. And there it was, too, on a Spanish news station in the restaurant. When I got in that night, I looked on the internet as best I could to try to understand what happened, but mostly, I didn’t want to. What was there to understand, beyond a profound sense of loss, of grief? 

Most of the time I was away, I said little in the public sphere, save to share some photos of places that were incredibly beautiful, peaceful, sacred in many ways. That felt like the most I could do, the best I could do, the one useful thing. That’s not true. I’m not sure that’s ever true—I can always do more, and most of the time, I should do more. But I felt—I feel—rooted, paralyzed. Even while walking more than 70 kilometers across three days, I was, in many ways, standing still. In other ways, I wasn’t. But this is not about that.

When I came home from Spain, we leapt immediately into moving. For the next twelve days, I hauled boxes, carload by carload, running through tissue after tissue, too, because I immediately got sick upon return. For another week, post-move, there was no internet at home and my phone gave up the ghost. The phone’s replacement auto-downloaded something and destroyed my data for the billing cycle, and so I just stayed in that quiet. I drove to campus a few times to check e-mail (and to move that office, too), but mostly, I was removed, screened as much from the world as this little blue house is screened from the road. But the world went on, and I couldn’t help but know, at least a little: these trees are young, not yet 30 years old, and mostly what stands between are vines of Virginia creeper and raspberry brambles that bear no fruit—unsubstantial stuff, things easy enough to move through.

What stood in the world—the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and five officers at what had been, as I understand it, a peaceful protest, and how many more deaths in how many more places and so much pointing to continuances of injustice—is not easy to move through (to put it absurdly lightly). I understand that much, and I understand that I do not know the half of it.

And in the end, the buffer didn’t do much. In the same way that water and light will always get in, so does the world and its grim tidings. But remember the light: I had a meeting on campus about the coming semester that gave me hope. I have students who are writing to and from these places of pain and injustice and vision, prising open the slammed sash. I’m working on our new writers’ series with a better sense of direction and purpose, doing the same with my syllabi. If I know I don’t know, the best thing I can do is try to know, try to make more spaces, more opportunities for listening and really hearing, learn what I can actually do, instead of wanting to retreat.

 

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