Bubbles of grey and white float over a dozen shades of blue. Beneath this layer of air and temperature is a shabby fishing cabin, abandoned on the shore of a lake and more shades of blue surrounded by a pine forest.
The lake here is deep, born and fed hundreds of years ago by a natural spring.
The weathered dock is grey as expected in this northern part of North America. Wind and snow have raised an army of slivers in the planks. There is no one to walk upon them.
The cabin’s windows no longer keep the rain at bay. The only occupants of the cabin are racoons and their pungent cousins the skunks whose odor is welcomed by the “kits.” Mother is not far away. The old, battered and rusted stovepipe, like the cabin itself, is cold and damp, no longer warm or dry.
Once the ice along the shore has melted, spring can come quickly and yet recede again as the fickle weather is known to do in these parts.
Shards of ice still dance on the ripples to the west, cuddled by the tallest hemlocks. The ice will stretch its limbs as the sun sets.
Peepers on the shoreline stand at attention, watching for…something.
Dirty and crusty snow packed on the rocks keeps the snakes covered, waiting perhaps for the return of crickets. The rocks will be covered with lichen and moss before the return of the full moon.
Tadpoles will layer themselves under fallen oak leaves.
The sweet smells of the coming season will waft before the forsythia and laurel even consider their rebirth.
Birds trill from deep in the thorny scrub.
The swamp to the north might house nesting ducks or loons, and perhaps in warmer weather, turtles or snakes, and most definitely frogs.
I’ve not been to this lake or seen this cabin. I am not sure that either are real. How strange that none of the colors have faded. Not the blues, the greys, the browns, not the dancing clouds above my head.
It is my father’s unfinished painting, simple canvas stapled to a frame with ragged edges. No title, name, or date. A passport into the last month of his life.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. She says she “hails from Woostah—educated at BOLLI.”
In late August of 1939, just prior to Germany’s invasion of Poland, President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a letter written by Leo Szilard but signed yours very truly, Albert Einstein. In the letter, the two scientists explained to the President what they knew of Germany’s experiments with uranium and expressed their genuine concern that the Germans were working feverishly to develop the splitting of the atom, an atomic bomb. With a letter signed by Einstein, the two men hoped to influence Roosevelt to respond to the German threat. Listening as economist Alex Sax read the letter, trying to grasp the significance of so much nuclear science jargon, Roosevelt famously said: “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.”
While no longer active in earthly affairs, Roosevelt, Szilard and Einstein have not entirely disappeared. Even in the afterlife, Einstein, devastated that the bomb had been detonated against civilians, still regrets signing the letter. What would have happened if he had kept silent?
One recent bright, sunny morning, Einstein and Szilard met at a Starbucks not far from Harvard Square. (Coffee is as popular in the afterlife as it is here on Earth.) Roosevelt was busy with his stamp collection and had stayed at home.
Dressed casually, minding their own business, Einstein and Szilard fit in with the young crowd too absorbed with their laptops and crossword puzzles to notice two old men sitting in the corner.
“If you ver ez dedicated to chumanity ez I cheard you claim ven you chad your interview to get in, vy zeh chell ver you zo shrewd viz me zat day, gettink me to zign a letter vich put zeh vorld on zeh path to damnation?” Einstein asked. “Perhaps you left out somethink?”
“I meant what I said, but how was I to know? It’s not my fault what Truman chose to do, mister sophisticated smarty-pants.” Szilard replied, somewhat hurt. “Besides, Truman isn’t here to defend himself. He didn’t pass the entrance exam.”
“If I chad known vat vaz goink to chappen, zeh only vay you could get me to zign vud chaf been to chypnotize me. I vaz alvayz too shmart to let anyone do zat! Oyy, I’ve got such a cheadache.”
“Sounds like Freud could help you, but he didn’t make it, you know. Still, I hear he keeps busy.”
“Nu? Und I’ve regretted it ever zince. Mankind chaz never been zeh same. Now look at zem, liffing in zeh now, zeh future, zeh past, dreamers, all of zem. See zat man over zer with chiz little computer gizmo, zeh one viz zeh double latte?”
“Yeah, what’s so special about him?”
“Che’z been looking up information from zeh ether about zat letter of yourz, zeh one you wrote zat I signed ‘yourz very truly.’ Efen here, zer’s no place to chide.”
“Zer’s been almost ez much written about zeh atomic bomb ez zer chaz been about Mark Twain und zeh Civil Var. Personally, I prefer Mark Twain.”
“I’ll invite Mark out for coffee the next time.”
“Okay, but I never undershtood hiz zense of chumor. I’m goink to chaf to teach chim Yiddish.”
“What about Franklin?”
“Che von’t come. Zey don’t allow you to zmoke in public places anymore.”
It is strange to say I used to play the French horn in an orchestra. I used to study Japanese. I used to hike. I once walked across England from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I was once a doctor…49 years’ worth of medicine. My children were once young. I tell myself to get on with it. Leave it behind. Now I paint with watercolors. Now I have given either nine or ten courses at BOLLI (and will do two more this fall.) Now I bag ten thousand-year-old lithics as a volunteer in an archaeology museum. Sometimes I write. Last year, I wrote and illustrated four short books for my now seven-year-old granddaughter who wants me to write something new, something about chopping the Evil Virus that plagues us into tiny pieces that will never come back to hurt anyone ever again. Yes! I have left “I used to” behind and think more about what I am “going to do.”
I noticed things. Specifically, the little leaves coming out on my Christmas cactuses. They emerge, one at a time, first the tiniest speck at the end of an established leaf. Week by week, that speck creeps out until it is a pale, reddish quarter inch. I think, with less time on my hands, I wouldn’t see these at all. Now, I pore over the plants and I see, cheering on these tiny bits of growth.
What else can I see now? Certainly the signs of spring, my emerging bleeding hearts and forget-me-knots. Sad names for such pretty things.
The taste of food, the changes in the weather, the news from outside . . . all have an enhanced importance as other diversions are no longer available. And I rejoice at all Zooming possibilities: our BOLLI meetings, the choruses and orchestras that somehow manage to create affirming, triumphant sounds. With diminished horizons, everything looms larger, and I think we all cling to signs of life and vitality, celebrating the way that people can unite to overcome distance and isolation.
The majesty and unconquerable nature of the human spirit is something to affirm, something to cling to. I am so grateful to all those musicians and dancers who continue to bring us delight, who articulate artistry and commitment in these trying times. Ballet dancers with their adagios around a kitchen counter, others in fields and on roof tops, dancing their joy.
I look forward to meals and the occasional long phone call. I read plague literature, first Camus then Defoe. I watch the news and hear about what new blunder our government has made and watch Blue Bloods on Amazon when it all gets to be too much. I rejoice at my own ability to survive with the help of Instacart and Wegmans’ deliveries. I check out how the virus is faring in the places where my family members live. I didn’t know what county Cary, North Carolina was in, but now I do, and I check to see how relatively safe my grandson might be.
Vigilance, anxiety, concern (and rage) are balanced by some new set of appreciations, some new awareness, or permeability. I check again my tiny new slow-starting leaves, and I see another tiny dot of expectation. Hooray for you, I say. I’m on your side.
Marjorie has been at BOLLI for nine years, taking classes, teaching classes, serving on committees. Writing has, all the while, helped to frame and deepen experience for her. (Be sure to dip into the 2020 BOLLI Journal to read two of her lovely poems.)
It happened quite simply. Our older daughter, her husband, and their three children moved to Massachusetts around 7 years ago. They had lived in Washington DC while she was in graduate school and her then soon-to-be husband was attending medical school. There, for several happy years, they received their degrees and became parents of their first child, our first granddaughter. They moved to the Philadelphia area and bought a sweet home in a wonderful neighborhood. She got a job, he completed his residency, and they became the parents of another daughter. We were quite sure they’d never move to the Boston area. Then he applied for a fellowship in mammography at Mass General Hospital.
Our hopes were high, but realistically, his chances were low, but we hoped for the impossible. We were thrilled when he was selected! They rented a two-bedroom apartment on the T line in Brookline. They liked living here and were glad to have grandparents as well as a great-grandmother all nearby.
Eventually, they bought a house in Newton and had a third daughter. Their lovely house sits on a quiet street where they have fabulous neighbors who have become close friends. It is within walking distance to the T and the center of town, the library, and, most importantly, PJ Licks Ice Cream. When they first looked at the house, they said that, some day, they would like to expand the kitchen and the dining room, and they especially wanted to change the chandelier. They were staying for the long haul, and we were delighted.
After six years, 2019 became the year for the renovation. They selected a contractor who had done jobs for friends and only worked on one job at a time. They were confident in their choice and shared the architect’s drawings. It looked like a bigger job than we had expected, but it surely looked good. They rented a home close by so they could take the kids to school, get themselves to work, and keep an eye on the construction. Their lease was for September to January. The contractor said that should be perfect timing. They put their furniture in storage and looked forward to 2020 being the year of their home being redone.
When our daughter was young and we had another on the way ourselves, we went through a much smaller renovation. It was rather stressful, but at least we weren’t out of our house for four months as they were to be. We suggested that, since we were going to spend February in Israel, they would be welcome to use our home if the job wasn’t finished on time. When that did become necessary, that move worked very well, especially because the family knew the house–its layout, the beds, the bathrooms, the toys, the couches, and, of course, the kitchen. They were already comfortable in it.
We arrived home on March 1st to find the house filled with smiles and laughter, and for two weeks, we all lived together. The kids went to school, their parents to work, and we were thrilled to have the time together. Then the Corona Virus overtook our world. Our son-in-law was sure that, as a doctor at Boston Medical Center, he’d be exposed, and he didn’t want to impact us since we are in the elder risk category. Both my daughters insisted that we take our friends up on their offer for us to go to their condo.
So, we packed up for our next adventure. Our friends are in Tucson, we’re in their condo, and our kids are in our home. Some day, our kids will move out, we’ll move back into our house and complain that it’s too quiet and run over to visit them. Our friends will return, and we’ll join them for dinner. Keep calm and carry on!
Sandy finally retired after nearly 50 years in Special Education. Along the way, she married, completed her doctorate, raised two daughters, married them off, and became a grandmother. She says that BOLLI is the key to maintaining brain function through teaching and learning while meeting new friends. Her hobbies now include photography, memoir writing, and aging. Sometimes she takes the risk and shares her hobbies and ideas with BOLLI members!
I am waiting to pick up some boxes of food at Russo’s. It is raining. I have been in my car for over an hour, so I have had time to get in touch with my feelings.
I think about not being able to pick out the avocadoes or the bouquet of flowers I like. I think about not being able to debate which vegetables to buy depending on what looks good this week. I think about not being able to look at, touch, and smell all these beautiful fruits, vegetables, plants, and flowers.
I have placed my order. Not only are spontaneous choices not possible, but it is also not possible to have spontaneous encounters with other shoppers who come from all parts of the world to buy the fruits and vegetables from their native countries. Conversations between customers usually start with “What is this? How do you eat it or cook it?” No more indulging my curiosity about foods and people in those narrow aisles filled with produce. Instead, I wait patiently in my car for a woman younger than me, wearing a face mask and rubber gloves, to wheel my boxes out in the rain.
Before she reaches my car, I see her throw a huge planter of purple and white pansies onto the cart. I figure this is not my order as I did not order pansies. I am feeling a bit downcast with all the waiting. Then she taps on my window! It is my order! I open the back with the automatic door opener, and she places the boxes inside saying, “I threw in some pansies for you! I hope you like flowers!” Overcome, I say, “Thank you! Thank you so much! Yes, I love flowers!”
Once home, I put on a mask and rubber gloves and unpack the boxes on the deck, washing everything in soapy water. In the background, I seem to hear the soundtrack of anxiety and the fear of death which seems to be playing all day and all night. Admittedly, I have found some ways to distract myself from this music, but I could never have imagined that the best interruption would come today, from a complete stranger, in the form of a spontaneous and cheerful gift of purple and white pansies!
My interests? Music. Art, language, psychology, nature, science, travel. My professions? Teaching preschool and working with children/young adults as a psycho-analytically trained therapist. Married to scientist Larry for over 50 years and now enjoying grandchildren, singing in the Concord Women’s Chorus, curating my father’s artistic legacy, writing, and gardening!
Until this March, it was easy to give things away. You could take them to Goodwill, use Freecycle, or take advantage of lots of other venues. It was also easy to donate food to food kitchens, clothing to clothing drives, etc. Then everything stopped, and two results have occurred. Things started piling up at home, and those in need lost an important source of goods. Remember the food box at Turner Street and the fall coat drive?
Now that things are beginning to open up, I’d like to make some recommendations:
Now that we are spending time at home, it is a good time to de-clutter. In Lexington, we have REUSEIT, a program which provides a mechanism for giving things away to other locals. I’ve given everything from furniture to lumber to jewelry.
Many organizations are now beginning to collect items, usually involving a process in which it sits for a number of days to ensure that there is no contamination.
Market Basket (and some other supermarkets) have large containers to accept food which they then donate.
Stop and Shop is now back to collecting bottles and cans but not yet accepting plastic bags.
Have additional recommendations to augment this short report for fellow BOLLI members looking to help?
I was in line at the departure gate at Gatwick Airport for my flight back to Boston. It was late January, and news of a virus in China had led many international airports to start some basic screening. There had been news of someone in Boston getting sick after returning from Wuhan, so I was a little nervous getting on the plane.
At the entrance to the departure lounge, each passenger was asked about recent travel to China. If someone from China wanted to get to Boston, I thought, they could just lie, but the person in front of me said that, yes, he had been in China three weeks ago. He got on the plane.
Now, in early June, so much has changed. How quaint were those early days when the only check was a verbal one and many thought the virus wouldn’t spread beyond its origins in China. Could we have imagined that, by now, there would be over 100,000 Americans dead from Covid-19 and the economy would be in shambles? Or that our lives would revolve around working from home, Zoom, grocery shopping exclusively online, social distancing, and face masks? We have been forced to “shelter in place” not for a day or two, as some of us did during the Boston Massacre, or weeks, as we did during a blizzard, but for months–and with no clear end in sight.
As we start to dip our toes back into the world, I find myself wondering how to make sense of what has changed and what may be laying ahead. Will we be able to return to normal, or will our lives never be the same? What can we learn from other disruptive events?
Are we like the survivors of a war trying to rebuild shattered lives and homes? Yes, we have lost too many lives. And we have lost our sense of feeling safe and secure in the world. But now, the danger comes not from bombs or artillery but from each other. Who might have the virus and not know it? How close can I come to that stranger or even my friend or relative? Who can I trust?
But the buildings are still standing. The communication, transportation, and other infrastructures have remained functional as have most businesses and institutions. Retail businesses are only waiting for people to emerge so they can start up again. Going forward, it is not the physical structures that need to be rebuilt but the personal, social, and political structures that hold our world together in invisible ways that make us feel safe and secure.
After every disaster, there is a period of cleanup which can last months. Now the cleanup drags on, exhausting the doctors, nurses, and others who are on the front lines. If the virus lingers, how do we build continuity and resilience to prevent breakdowns for those tasked with caring for the sick, the poor, the homeless? How do we reduce the demands and stress on teachers, parents, and others who are responsible for educating our children and grandchildren? We need more than just cleanup. We need long-term planning to train and rotate multiple waves of educators and front line workers as the first group rests. We need to protect those who heal, educate, and support us. We need to show them our appreciation and gratitude.
After wars and other major disruptions, the world did not return to the way it was. Some losses never healed. Some organizations never came back. Some people never recovered. And some suffered long-term physical and mental problems. We have already witnessed social, political, and economic fallout that could last for years. As we contemplate our lives going forward, we have to consider that we won’t ever go back to the way things were.
If the past few months have taught us anything, it is that we are responsible not just for ourselves but for those around us. We limit grocery shopping to protect not only us but the people working in the stores. We wear masks and practice social distancing not only for our own safety but so that we don’t spread the disease to others. These actions are part of living in a community where we have mutual responsibility for each other. When we trust and respect others by demonstrating kindness and compassion, we start to build the social structures from which strength, determination, and resiliency can grow.
We are fortunate, at BOLLI, to be part of a thriving learning community, even though remote. It’s a good start.
When Kate joined BOLLI 5 years ago, she put aside a lifetime of research into people and technology to take classes in History, Music, Art, and Writing. She also knits. After 40 years as a foreigner, she still doesn’t understand America.
The BOLLI Journal staff is proud and pleased to present this year’s volume of visual art and writing by members of our BOLLI community.
Enjoy “virtually” thumbing through this collection of written and visual art work. Writing includes works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and memoir. Drawing, painting, printmaking, mosaics, glass, and even furniture are featured. In addition, this volume’s array of photography includes nature/wildlife images and portraits as well as travel and street scenes. It definitely showcases this community’s remarkable talent!
Unfortunately, at this point, because of BOLLI’s current “online only” status, we really cannot say when print copies of the volume may become available for order and distribution.
We thank all of our BOLLI writers and artists for their marvelous contributions and look forward to you, the members of this community, sharing your reactions with that remarkable creative group.