No Grading Will Occur Today

I don’t cry.

Twenty years of therapy and I still don’t cry too often, and I can pretty much tell you the day, month and year of the last few times I cried in the last 25 years. Late August 2008. Early December 1993. A few other times.

And then Eleven-Seven/Twenty-Twenty happened.

I am the Eighth Dwarf: Call me Weepy.

Before this, I have lived through a few Major Historical Moments.

I was just short of two years old when American astronauts landed on the moon. My father tried to convince me that it was happening in honor of my birthday, and even at one year and change, I was pretty sure he was putting me on.

On Nine-Eleven, I was arriving at work at MIT and my colleagues were completely freaking out and we went across the hall to the ESL professor’s office, because she had a television, and we watched the playback of the New York attacks and heard the rumors of the attack on the Pentagon. Then we heard about Flight 93, and the passengers who gave their lives to ensure that the hijackers would not do even graver damage, and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. MIT did not immediately cancel classes, but my boss sent us home. On my way home, I saw an airplane pass behind a skyscraper and held my breath until it came out the other side.

I have never since assumed that airplanes would necessarily pass behind skyscrapers.

On the night of the 2016 election, November 8, I was sitting in one of Boston’s last gay bars, with about twenty or so lesbians in a space big enough for eight or nine (because lesbians, like atoms, can squeeze down to fit into whatever space they are given; it’s science). And we were anticipating that the Woman in the Pantsuitä, Hillary Clinton, would wipe the national floor with DJ Trump’s racist, sexist, homophobic, failed businessman (etc., etc.)’s fat orange ass. And we watched as the TVs around the bar showed the map of the United States turning… redder… and redder… and redder…

And I watched a hundred or more gay folks as their body language got smaller and smaller.

And we realized… that the worst had happened. I saw people weeping in small groups. I saw young lesbians crying and older gay men telling them, “Well, we survived Reagan in the 80s and AIDS. We’ll survive this too.” And I didn’t believe them, because I knew that a lot of people had not in fact survived that, and that a lot of us wouldn’t survive this.

And here we are, four years later, with 235,000 or so Americans dead from Covid-19, in part because of the astonishing lack of leadership and reliance on science from this so-called administration.

I wasn’t wrong, alas.

But then… even though many of us were expecting a Blue Tsunami, repudiating 44.25’s hatred, etc., we waited and waited and waited. We persisted.

And we prevailed.

But I am having trouble processing it. I keep seeing memes and video clips from movies, relabeled with the names of politicians and with “mail-in votes” and I end up weeping. I went grocery shopping in Brookline, MA, which had 5% more votes for Biden/Harris than Boston did, and families with children are standing with signs saying, “Honk4Biden” and cars are honking and I am weeping into my mask.

And I thought I could get started on grading my students’ fourth paper of the semester, but, just, yeah, no.

So here it is. I don’t cry.

And yet.

No grading will occur today on account of how I keep seeing post-election memes and weeping. That is all.

Landscape and Identity

It’s hard to believe it has been fourteen years since the events of 9/11. The college freshmen I was teaching that semester are now in their early thirties, and one can only wonder if that event was formative for them. Certainly for the kids from New York and New Jersey, I imagine they were. I remember one student describing looking out her window at home, over the river to see Manhattan’s high rises, and then going home for Columbus Day weekend and her crucial landmarks were just gone.

It is unnerving when our landscape just disappears. It robs us of our anchors, the margins of our world that tell us which way is up and down and left and right. Perhaps that is one reason the Budweiser tribute to the victims of 9/11 from five years ago is so affecting.

An even more powerful example of this is the Japanese tsunami four years ago, when the sea rose up and ate whole towns and villages, leaving over 15,000 people dead, 340,000 people displaced and 24-25 million tons of rubble and debris. I cannot imagine returning home to see only barren broken land, shorn of natural and built environment, stranded in rubble and mud.

The flip side of all this loss are the barely visible landmarks by which we make our way through our familiar environments. I remember coming home to New England after spending more than two years in Japan and being amazed at all the church steeples everywhere I looked (or so it seemed). Although I started out Roman Catholic, the ubiquitous white wooden Congregational church steeples were like architectural punctuation telling me that this geography is a sentence I understand how to read.

And now, working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after my time in Japan many years ago, I cannot pass under an apparently nameless concrete gate next to the Wiesner Building without thinking of all the torii gates I saw in Japan, particularly the most famous on out on the water near Miyajima. You can leave a place, but it doesn’t always leave you.