Windows

2 Apr

Windows. I finally got around to the Sunday New York Times’ special section of photographs of empty streets in cities around the world. Amazing, aesthetically rich, and disturbing —all at the same time. 

The double-fold photo from São Paulo captured special attention: a nighttime scene of the windows of a high-rise apartment building, some dark, some lit up. In each lighted window was the silhouette of a person who was banging a kettle to protest the Brazilian president’s refusal to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.

Coincidentally, a friend who lives in a retirement community in Virginia sent me these thoughts about looking out windows:

“You see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, but don’t say to yourself, ‘My goodness, it looks like the end of the world.’ What you’re seeing is love in action. What you’re seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other, for our grandparents, for our immuno-compromised brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet. When you’re looking out the window, look into the emptiness and marvel at all of that love.”

When I looked out my window today, what I saw was extraordinary—in the foreground, the sun was shining brilliantly off the neighboring buildings, but three blocks north and beyond fog obscured everything. Two hours later, we were in the fog, too.

In each of these vignettes windows take on symbolic meaning. in São Paulo, each window is a stage in which action takes place—in this case, protest action. Taken all together, the windows reveal a community of protestors.

In the second story, the view is emptiness, interpreted as a sign of the love to others shown in “social distancing,” 

My own window experience involved both sunlight and obscuring fog. In our current situation, there are bright spots—health care and other workers giving every last ounce of energy to serving the community, as well as the thousands of people who recover from the disease. 

But the fog was there. When I was a student in Germany in 1954, I lived in the village of Kilchberg, a few miles outside Tūbingen, where the university was located. I bicycled back and forth on the road that ran alongside the Neckar river. Sometimes, of an evening, fog would envelope me; I still recall riding in the fog—an excitement, a sense being alone in a world I cannot see. 

A German poem describes a man riding horseback in dense fog, who comes upon a village. He can see nothing in the fog, but when he hears a fountain, he knows he is in the town center; the splashing sounds enable him to find his way.

We are also journeying in fog—the tenuousness of our predictions, the uncertainty of what will happen in our own lives on any given day, and  a residual fear (the predicted 100,000 deaths to occur between April 1 and June 1 means that on the average 1,600 people will die every day). What lies in the distance, in the future, is shrouded in the fog.

Each of us, too, may hear a fountain splashing—flowing water symbolizes life. For some, religious faith is that fountain. For others, a deep sense of values, or family ties, or confidence in science and the practice of medicine. 

We may feel alone on this journey, but we are a community. The technology of phones, Face-time, and Zoom makes that community real, as well as the essential workers who put food on grocery store shelves or shop for us or care for us if we must go to the hospital. 

Two more vignettes that reveal this community: My doctor wanted a draw of my blood, but since we are under lockdown, I cannot go to the hospital for that lab work. At 6 o’clock this morning. I was awakened by a lab technician who had come to me to draw the blood. Another sign of our times: Neva ordered groceries online. The shopper who was filling the order texted her, “We’re out of green onions; do you want a substitute?” She texted back, “No, that’s okay, but I forgot to order hummus.” A text came back, “No problem, it’s in your cart now!”

I hear the welcome sound of a fountain—I’ll find my way. I hope you hear it, too.

 


(c) Phil Hefner    2 April 2020

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