On getting back in the swing of things.

I know, I know, I know. I’m a day late – AGAIN. I missed Writer Wednesday – AGAIN. But at least this week I have a valid excuse, or at least what I believe to be a valid excuse.

School started up again and full disclosure: it’s kicking my ass.

My building shut down for students on Friday, March 13, 2020; it was the last normal school day. Staff came in for a half day the following Monday. That means it’s been nearly six months since I was in a classroom with students. And while things are definitely not normal, they are definitely improving. I was absolutely E L A T E D to see about half of my students today! Even former students managed to stop by and say hello and it just felt so good. I had a smile – underneath my mask – that just never went away. And though I’m more exhausted than I thought I would be, I am also happier and more satisfied than I thought I would be. Adding to this simple joy is the fact that I was blessed to have relatively few technological issues, and the few I did have were user error (but I think I fixed my issue and tomorrow should be better). I just had a wonderful day because I was with people, connecting with people, and feeling like life really can and will continue. As bone-tired as I am (and I’m sure this very dreary weather isn’t helping), I’m also rejuvenated because I have hope, and I even feel like I have a purpose. This contentment just validates that I truly b e l o n g in a classroom.

And Bruce Springsteen – the Boss man himself! – announced another album with the E Street Band is due out next month! Could life get any better?

It’s weird how the universe works (or maybe not; maybe that’s the point) because I’ve been thinking about Bruce Springsteen a lot lately, particularly about his song “Human Touch.”

I have to interrupt myself: right now, a woman is walking down my street in the rain and she couldn’t be happier. She spread her arms wide and lifted her face to the sky and she smiled. The woman inside the house she just left opened the door and called to her, offering a ride. But the Walking Woman just shrugged and smiled wider, hopping joyfully onto the sidewalk and giving a final wave from over her shoulder. That’s awesome. That’s my tribe, man.

Anyway, back to Bruce Springsteen and his song, “Human Touch.” While it’s undoubtedly sultry and romantic in nature, I feel it still applies during this pandemic and resulting quarantine, and I will explain why via annotation (man; am I an English teacher or what?!)

You and me we were the pretenders
We let it all slip away
In the end what you don’t surrender
Well the world just strips away

Girl ain’t no kindness in the face of strangers
Ain’t gonna find no miracles here
Well you can wait on your blessings darlin’
But I got a deal for you right here

I ain’t lookin’ for prayers or pity
I ain’t comin’ ’round searchin’ for a crutch
I just want someone to talk to

And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch

Ain’t no mercy on the streets of this town
Ain’t no bread from heavenly skies
Ain’t nobody drawin’ wine from this blood
It’s just you and me tonight

Tell me in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much ?
I just want something to hold on to
And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch

Oh girl that feeling of safety you prize
Well it comes with a hard hard price
You can’t shut off the risk and pain
Without losin’ the love that remains
We’re all riders on this train

So you been broken and you been hurt
Show me somebody who ain’t

Yeah I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain
But hell a little touchup
And a little paint…

You might need somethin’ to hold on to
When all the answers they don’t amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to

And a little of that human touch

Baby in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much?
I just want to feel you in my arms
And share a little of that human touch…

Ok … so the lines I made purple are the most important lines as they pertain to this post and the point I’m making. “In the end what you don’t surrender / Well the world just strips away” – the world is a touch place, and that is not a new nor revelatory idea. But it seems harder and colder in the midst of the current state of affairs, where we’re not allowed to gather and when we do, it seems to be for protests against social injustice more than reasons to celebrate. The sociopolitical climate is extremely divisive and the social and emotional distance between people is ever-widening. I know some of us are smiling and keeping our mouths shut just to get through the day. And I know some of us feel disillusioned and disheartened. And I know a lot of us are angry. Those extreme passions and emotions can strip important parts of our humanity away, like rationality and civility and humility and compassion and forgiveness. This world, even before the pandemic, could leave us wanting to be alone. Be careful what you wish for and all that, I guess.

“I ain’t lookin’ for prayers or pity / I ain’t comin’ ’round searchin’ for a crutch / I just want someone to talk to” For me, these lines eloquently express my new outlook on the challenges that lay ahead in my professional life, but I suppose it could apply just as easily to my personal life, too. I don’t want to complain and be pitied or pacified. I don’t want anyone to fix anything for me. I just want to communicate – to laugh and cry and wax philosophical about all sorts of topics, particularly ones that rock my soul. There’s that awesome saying that’s been circulating for a while now, about how people don’t listen to authentically respond, but just for their turn to speak. And I feel like this is especially true during this pandemic and quarantine because there’s so many filters and screens and barriers, and so much “communication” is done through social media, where the emphasis is more on media that authentic social congregation, where everyone is flouting their own propaganda. It’s harder to be dismissive and indifferent and inauthentic when it’s a real conversation, when it’s face-to-face.

“Oh girl that feeling of safety you prize / Well it comes with a hard hard price / You can’t shut off the risk and pain / Without losin’ the love that remains / We’re all riders on this train” Despite all the naysayers out there, there is a common human experience, which is why “we’re all riders on this train.” To isolate ourselves is to deny ourselves community and the chance at being loved and included. It seems easier to just give up on people and subscribe wholeheartedly to “do you,” but it’s an awful way to live, in my opinion. It’s all about balance; all relationships require us to balance our needs with the needs of our loved ones. Just as giving selflessly can lead to burn out, so can never giving at all.

“So you been broken and you been hurt / Show me somebody who ain’t” The best worst thing about heartbreak is that it is part of the universal human experience; we’ve all been there. And currently, we’re all dealing with different personal and professional issues brought on by these unprecedented times. That’s all the more reason to reach out and find “that human touch” where you can.

“You might need somethin’ to hold on to / When all the answers they don’t amount to much/ Somebody that you can just talk to” We’re fed conflicting information on a daily basis from a variety of different sources, and sometimes that information is not beneficial or pleasing or even useful. So yeah, sometimes the answers “don’t amount to much” and you need “someone to talk to.” I loved teaching today, every single second. I had a mask on and kept my distance from my students and didn’t see as many colleagues as I normally would, but I got to talk to people about their interests and their challenges and we got to connect.

I found a little of that human touch, I guess.

On the importance of being able to dance.

This pandemic and its resulting quarantine and lockdown measures have stolen a lot of precious moments from people of all walks of life. Yesterday, I was watching a news report about a woman whose father died in a nursing home from COVID-19, and they’ve been waiting three months to have a funeral. This makes sense to me when I recall a friend relating her experience of attending a funeral during these unprecedented times, and they weren’t allowed to hug or hold each other in a time of deep despair. There was no real comforting allowed, just people sitting six feet apart and crying. Granted, this happened early in the quarantine, but the awful way human beings have been isolated and separated continues. In April, the CDC confirmed suicide rates increased by 35% (from this article) and that opioid overdoses were on the rise after declining (from this article). In short, people are not okay.

So any semblance of returning to normalcy is a wonderful thing. On Monday night, I attended my first drive-in concert, seeing Andrew McMahon at Monmouth Park. I went with three other friends as only four people were allowed to a car, but we had friends – and friends of friends – in two other cars. I definitely agreed with my self-proclaimed introverted friend that not dealing with long lines and suffocating masses of people was a plus, as was being able to sit and have access to a cooler. It was like the concert came to us in the parking lot, like we never had to stop tailgating. I remember standing for about eight hours when I saw Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium. My friend and I had general admission tickets, so we had to stand and wait in line to make sure we got as close to the stage as possible, and we had to stand and wait for the concert to start once inside the stadium. There were more lines for drinks and food and merchandise, and it was a struggle to squirm and plead to get back to where you were standing. I agree that this drive-in setup has perks.

But it’s still not the same. There were eight of us gathered around the trunk, getting what we wanted for the cooler, and the security guards made us separate. We understood and complied with little to no grumbling. But for the majority of the night, they were insistent we be in our car. Monday was a hot one, and when the concert started, it was an absolutely gorgeous evening with a remarkable sunset. We didn’t want to sit in the car. They seemed satisfied as long as we were touching the car, but naturally those with convertibles and flat-bed trucks had an advantage.

It was better than nothing to be sure, and the return of live music is one I celebrate and embrace. But I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t miss traditional concerts. Some of my favorite memories are with people I met at concerts. People in line for Bruce Springsteen are hands down the nicest people I’ve ever met in any kind of line. One time, my sister and her friend befriended an older couple who danced with us and brought us food and beer and for a couple of hours, we were a little family or the oldest of friends. And I mean we danced – limbs flying every which way, totally uninhibited and completely joyful. In one of my new favorite films, Jojo Rabbit, the mother of the title character (played perfectly by Scarlett Johansson) explains that “We have to dance to show God we are grateful to be alive” and that “Dancing is for people who are free.” Not being able to dance was disappointing.

And even singing along seemed pointless when the only people who could hear me (and suffer, as I am a terrible singer) were the three people I came with. There’s something transcendent about singing as loud as you can with a crowd of thousands to your favorite song. My friend once filmed me singing along with Bruce Springsteen and captioned the video, “Mandi worshiping at the altar of Bruce,” which is exactly what I was doing. I remember being filled with a passionate angst when I saw My Chemical Romance, raising my first to the air and proclaiming that I was not afraid to keep on living. Instead, we sang under our breath and honked our horns to show we were having a good time.

Walt Whitman once wrote, “O to have my life henceforth a poem of new joys!/ To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on….” That is what we need to get back to; to be joyful to be alive and to be grateful and to celebrate. I look forward to being able to attend concerts and weddings, and to congregate with friends. I am ready to smile and laugh, to hug and hold, and to just be together. I could complain about the drive-in (and I have), but it’s important I end with hope. It’s all we have. And as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you/ Beauty and terror/ Just keep going/ No feeling is final.”