“The past is strange. History is constantly being arranged like cheap furniture.”
-Tony Medina, I Am Alfonso Jones
We’re coming up on a year since I went into my first COVID “shelter in place,” and I’m not sure how to interact with that time. Have you ever been walking through a big city square, and you can see the buildings on the far side, but they just don’t seem to be getting any closer? This year’s felt like that. Have you ever been drifting to sleep when your phone beeps, waking you up, and you can feel both how you slipped into something else for a moment, and how that moment was a wild dreaming fullness that went out farther than you’ll ever understand? This year’s felt like that, too.
Then my thinking mind gets hold of it, and things get even more confusing. Sometimes I think about the last twelve months as a time when I “managed almost nothing.” When I didn’t know, and stumbled, at best going on lots of walks through my Midwestern neighborhood, at worst—what? Sitting. Crumpling. Hoping to get rid of the time. I can arrange a story of my memories that fits that statement. In other moments, I think about the last twelve months as a time when we showed we can pull together, care about each other. When I reconnected with people I care about, and did some good thinking about what I really care about, and found new ways to help. I can make a memory sequence that fits those statements, too. Put the striped chair of my teaching under the window that opens to trees, next to the lamp of zoom calls with friends, and the room of this year looks one way. Drag the couch of sleepless nights over by the bookshelf of confusions, and it looks another way. And there I go, dragging around the furniture, trying to figure out what this year was.
Looking in at myself, I want to stop dragging things around so much. I want to sit for a bit and be here, without worrying what I’ll arrange everything to “be.” Looking out at the world, I want to remember how easy furniture is to push around. I was here for my whole year, and I’m still not sure what this strange thing is. In hearing how things got this way, or what led us here, or the of courses we have to accept, I want to pay attention to who’s moving the furniture. And why.