Barn’s burnt down—
now
I can see the moon.

 -Mizuta Masahide

For weeks now, I have watched as the world around me decks its halls in a sort of collective holiday practice. Even before Thanksgiving, there were lights hanging from the roofs of the houses in our neighborhood, Christmas trees standing in front windows, doorways draped in greenery and red berries. On my evening walks, I have made it a game to find one new example of holiday décor every night, a sort of seasonal scavenger hunt. It hasn’t been much of a challenge. It is as if there was some unspoken agreement to embrace as much cheer, and light as many candles as possible, in the face of this dark, troubled year.

For indeed, our practices—both private and communal—have been wrecked these last months, shredded beyond recognition. We have lost so much. As a professional pianist and teacher, I have lost work and the joy of making music with the colleagues I love. I have lost the ease of teaching piano lessons in person. I have lost hours of connection with friends over coffee or drinks. I have lost a beloved cat.

I miss smiling at strangers in the grocery store. I miss going to concerts and restaurants, yoga classes and bookshops. I miss hugging my Mom and Dad.

But my list of grievances feels small and trivial against those who have suffered much greater losses. People have lost work and homes and the people they love. The world is overflowing with empty stomachs and broken hearts and limping spirits.

When our lives first shut down, I wondered, “What if this forced cloistering made us into different people?” I no longer wonder. We are forever different people, scarred and wounded, hungry for hope, desperately looking towards a tomorrow we can’t possibly imagine. In spite of all our losses, our burdens are heavy, literally dragging us down.

I find that there have been unique chapters in this time of self-isolation, each with their own colors and subtleties. At first, I amused myself by making lists of the things I most looked forward to when the shutdown was over. I wanted to meet a friend at a coffee house or to sit by myself at a corner table with a blank sheet of paper in front of me watching people come and go with their frothy cappuccinos. I wanted to go out to dinner with my husband and reconnect, to retell the joys and struggles of our separate workdays. I wanted to play concerts and go to rehearsals and teach my kids in person. One piano, one student, one teacher in a room together: so simple, so perfect.

The week we lost Godiva, I would have given anything to escape the walls of our home. I longed for the distraction of meeting my best friend at our favorite Irish pub with its cozy fireplace or to have breakfast with my mom in the cheerful bakery up the street. I wanted to spend hours in a bookstore, browsing. A three-hour yoga workshop would have been an ideal way to fill up an empty, and sad, afternoon.

I hadn’t realized until that lonely week that it had been months since I had thought about the pleasures of being out and about in public places, so accustomed had I become to our hibernating state. But then December has always seemed like the perfect cozy month for cloistering with our twinkling lights and candles, books and bowls of soup. It’s a strange tension: we are finally in the month where it might be most natural to stay at home, and I find myself obsessed with wanting to fill this space with people, food, music.

Barn’s burnt down. Some days I can only see the hole where the barn used to be. I miss the weight of a sweet cat purring on my lap, I think I cannot face another afternoon of online piano lessons, the thought of all the music that isn’t a part of our month makes me want to weep.

But then I remember: Now I can see the moon. 2020 did not just consist of a scary pandemic and horrible politics and angry protests and wildfires and hurricanes, it also included a month in Europe with the person I love most in the world. It has been filled with reading and gardening and practicing and swimming, walks with friends and Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and brother in the courtyard shivering around the chiminea. It has held space for silence and meditation and solitude. “I hope someday,” I said to Matt this week, “we will say with great fondness, ‘Remember that year when we had dinner together every single night.’”

Barn’s burnt down. We limp towards Bethlehem. But look! There’s a moon shining so brightly above us. Look up, friends.

 

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