Hearing friends talk about their kids who are in their senior year of high school right now tears me up. First it’s missing school, which is not so bad at first, but then spring concerts and plays are called off and finally, the biggie – no senior prom.
Nobody knows yet if it will extend to graduation ceremonies.
It’s not hard for me to feel for these kids. First, they’re my friends’ children and I love them. But I feel for all of them, because I remember what it’s like to miss moments of your life that you can’t get back. Moments that at the time, are the biggest events of your life.
When I was a senior in high school, an F-5 tornado tore through my hometown wreaking havoc in its mile-wide path that stretched from the southwest to the northeast corners of Wichita Falls. Spring break was in session when it hit, so we didn’t go back to school until the next week. My high school was damaged, but not unusable. Every window was blown out, and the cafeteria – much to our delight – had a huge hole in the roof. The band hall and the main gym were struck, but worst of all, the entire auditorium was condemned.
Meaning no senior play.
We had already started rehearsals for “Up the Down Staircase,” a classic tale of a young inexperienced high school teacher with a classful of juvenile delinquents. Within just a couple of weeks of rehearsal, we knew each other’s lines and could all recite them together. I can still hear Steve Fairfield making his entrance onto the classroom set on stage and declaring, “There is an insufficiency of chairs!” And of course, I remember my character, “Ella Friedenburg, guidance counselor.”
I had already put my costume together, a frumpy dress and Softspot shoes, complete with an old pair of my mother’s cat-eyed glasses and my grandmother’s wig. But I never got to wear it.
For awhile we tried to find another venue – some place that would host us for just one performance. But the whole city was torn up from the tornado, and none of the other schools in town were willing to host us . So after auditions and casting and weeks of rehearsal in anxious anticipation of the show, we never got to perform together on stage.
Some might say it was the right decision to cancel, simply because many students’ homes had been destroyed, and it was a full time job for them cleaning up debris after school. After school rehearsals would’ve made that difficult.
But being together was a big part of what helped us get through that awful time.
In the days of no cell phones or internet, where checking on friends meant literally getting in your car and driving as far as you could, then walking over piles of debris blocking the streets, to a pile of rubble that used to be a friend’s home, to see if they were okay.
But when you found a friend, when you saw them for the first time, you ran and threw your arms around each other and held on for dear life, because you realized for the first time that’s exactly what it was.
And being able to gather in each other’s homes that were left intact felt better than ever. We hung out at homes that had been blown away, leaving only a slab of concrete and bathroom fixtures. We set up card tables and folding chairs and played penny ante poker as long as we could, until the ten o’clock curfew (enforced by the National Guard, to cut down on the looting) forced us to drive home.
Being able to be together was all that mattered to us during that time. Especially when some had lost everything.
That’s what makes this time of corona virus so hard – not being able to be together in the same place. Not being able to hug each other. Hold each other. In a time of worry and stress and fear of the known and unknown, touch is a powerful antidote. Touch is healing comfort, soothing reassurance.
For people who live alone right now, this is incredibly hard.
When I went home and told my mom that the senior play had been cancelled, we decided to throw a cast party – a cast party for the play that never was! My mom made chili and cornbread and dessert for all 30 members of the cast and our director, and on the night that the play was supposed to debut, we had a party at our house.
That night we healed a little more, just from being together.
I’m sad for my young friends who will miss some really significant moments in life. Milestones. Rights of passage.
I’m thankful for the technology we have today, to keep us connected, to allow us to interact with each other during a difficult time. It would have made things easier back then.
But nothing will ever replace the power of touch, of presence, of people coming together.
Not even my mama’s chili.