I awoke to the sound of our son (aka Jiminy Cricket) opening our bedroom door. An early riser, he was the first to realize that powerful winds had left us powerless. He was making the rounds of all the bedrooms, leaving flashlights for everyone on their bedside tables.
Schools were closed for the day for the kids, but my husband and I had to get to work. It was a harrowing trip that involved rerouting several times because of road blocks, driving through a roadblock, and twice driving under a tree resting on power lines. Meanwhile, the kids spent the day shivering in a house that was cold, dark, and without water. My daughter’s was delighted to get out of the house that evening to go to her quartet practice…
We went out to dinner and then killed some more time at a bookstore, all the while compulsively checking the Dominion Power website on our phones to see if power had been restored to our neighborhood. When it became clear that we would spend another night without power, we stopped off at two different grocery stores to find enough water to drink and to flush toilets.
My daughter and I camped out in the living room next to a cozy fire…
…but woke up shivering in a house that still had no power.
It’s amazing how quickly we lose the will to be civilized when there is no electricity. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink. Clothing was discarded on the floor. Tissues were used then left on the coffee table rather than thrown into the trash. Worst of all, we became like rats in a cage, snapping and snarling at each other for no good reason.
We tried to restore our humanity at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, where we caught the end of the remarkable Terracotta Warriors exhibit…
Back in Charlottesville, we dropped one son off at a friend’s dad’s office to work on a project and my daughter off at church, where her Sunday School class was serving dinner to the homeless guests who are there for PACEM. After taking the opportunity to fill jugs with water to take back home, my son and I decided to have dinner at the newly-opened J Petal: a Japanese crepe and Thai ice cream restaurant.
We picked my daughter up and as we drove back to the house, I began to whine about the prospect of having to spend another cold night without power. I felt immediately chastened when from the back seat my girl piped up: “Think about the people in Puerto Rico…Some of them haven’t had power for 6 months. And then, of course, I thought about the homeless people who have to worry about keeping warm and having enough food and water to eat on a daily basis. We came back home to lights, heat, water, and a renewed appreciation for the simple things we take for granted. It was hard to fully enjoy it, though, knowing that friends around town were still without power and thinking about those for whom this situation is not just a temporary inconvenience.
8 am: This was the sight I saw as I pulled out of the driveway. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to school and work we go…
Later that day my college friend Lizochka drove up from Charlotte to Charlottesville for a visit. She arrived at the university towards the end of the workday, so I could take her on a quick tour of the Grounds. The leaves are at their glorious peak, so despite the rain, it was a great weekend to be in C’ville.
Our oldest son had to be at his testing site by 7:45 am for the last SAT he’d ever take. My daughter would be heading to her last soccer game of the season. As we discussed the complicated logistics over breakfast the kids asked me how Liza and I were planning to spend our day.
“Oh, we’re going to get up to aaaaaaaall kinds of mischief.” I told them.
“But what are you going to do? Are you going to go around painting graffiti or something?” asked my 15-year-old son, who is always willing to play along.
“Well, you’re just going to have to tune into NBC 29 News tonight to find out!” I replied with my best attempt at exuding an edgy, menacing sort of vibe.
My amenable son raised his eyebrows and pretended to be suitably impressed.
My daughter shot us down in flames by deadpanning with devastating accuracy: “Are you going shopping at Roxie Daisy?”
OK, kid. Yeah, whatever:
Unrepentent miscreants that we are, we recorded our every move:
I want to steal this chair. It was like sitting on a cloud. A really, really expensive cloud. ($3000+).
We hit up all my other favorite spots on the Downtown Mall too:
From O’Suzannah to Rock, Paper, Scissors, and an obligatory stop at Caspari to say hello to the zebra finches!
No visit to C’ville is complete without a stop at MarieBette, where we had our lunch:
And last but not least, we poked our heads into Patina, my favorite store in Charlottesville.
We had a cozy dinner at home with a table full of family and friends, and then we spent the rest of the evening tucked up on the couch, watching the charming movie The Big Sick.
A jiu-jitsu takedown? A hug? Who can tell?
Bidding a fond farewell to my sweet friend…
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this boy play his guitar…
At choir, we got started on Christmas music… “Hey on, Sir Ass, hey!”
Lately, I’ve been spending my lunch hour at the Dell, which is a short stroll from my office.
It’s a poem fashioned out of water, flora, fauna…and ruins.
An old archway is all that’s left of what were once Italianate gardens…
Orderly geometry has given way to an overgrown, naturalistic landscape. The Dell has been transformed into a pond that is used for stormwater management. Its wild beauty makes it easy to forget its utilitarian purpose.
A meandering trail wraps around the pond and is strategically dotted with benches. I never like to sit though, because around every corner there’s always something new to see.
Sometimes a community of turtles sun themselves by the lily pads…
Native plants are planted around the perimeter of the pond…
From time to time I have to push aside long grasses that have fallen into the path. I feel them tickle my legs and hope I’m not brushing up against poison ivy. In this landscape, unexpected things sprout up by themselves…
But there are some reassuring constants. At one end of the pond, I look out for my friend, the king of the pond. I always find the giant koi lazily patrolling his favorite corner of his watery realm…
Dragonflies chase each other all over the pond. Every now and then they take a break…
As for the industrious bees, they never have time to play.At least they are appreciating the flowers as they toil away…
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-bound stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
From Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things
On the Downtown Mall…In front of City Hall…The statue of Robert E. Lee has been shrouded.Standing in Solidarity with DREAMers on Grounds at the University of Virginia…9/6/17
On Saturday we witnessed naked hatred and violence like we had never before experienced in our relatively sheltered lifetimes. It shook us to the core. That night I asked my husband to make sure the garage apartment was locked up. We awoke to a world where the advisability of going to church had to be weighed against safety concerns. As I pulled out of my driveway that morning, I looked warily at my daughter’s playhouse and wondered if it could possibly be sheltering a Nazi sleeping off a day of liquor-fueled rampaging in our once peaceful little town. On Tuesday, the words I heard spewing from the incontinent troll in the White House hit me like a punch to the gut. My heart was filled with blind rage. I could not muster any love or light that night.
As I tried to settle down to sleep, my phone kept pinging with messages being sent by people spreading the word about a candlelight march that would begin at 9 pm the next night. We would retrace the same route that the tiki-torch-bearing losers took on Friday to reclaim the Grounds of the University of Virginia. There was, is still enough fear of violence that there were no posts to social media. I know people who came with mace for fear of being attacked. People were spreading the word only to those they trusted.
In the morning my daughter heard me discussing my plan to go to the march with my 17-year-old son. The fear I saw in her eyes made my heart ache.
“Is that safe?” she asked.
“There will only be good people there,” I reassured her, “It’s being kept off social media and people are only finding out about it through trusted friends.”
“But you know they’ll find out about it,” she said. They meaning the people she had seen on the news…the people with faces contorted with rage and hatred…they who were brandishing clubs and guns at our friends and clergy.
“We’ll be very careful,” I said, “I promise.”
That night I came home after a welcome dinner for our university’s new international students to pick up my son and my husband who had decided to come. To my surprise, my 15-year-old, who is usually in bed by 9, said he also wanted to come with us. I felt torn for my 12-year-old daughter, who was now faced with the choice of being by herself at night, or coming with us. She chose to come.
As we walked to Nameless Field, she clutched my hand.
“We’re parked close enough so that we can run to the car if there’s trouble,” she said as if to reassure us all.
“Don’t worry. Just stay close to me. I’ll protect you,” I told her as I squeezed her hand, “You know I would lay down my life for you…And I’m kind of a badass.”
This statement would not stand. She looked over at me, not quite rolling her eyes.
“I would lay down my life for you. And besides, I’m bigger than you are. And way more of a badass.”
And she is.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
A couple weeks ago a friend and I were discussing the White Nationalist rally that was coming to Charlottesville when it was still just a looming menace.
“Will you leave town?” my friend asked me.
“Why should I?” I replied. “Charlottesville is my town. I live there.”
The day we dreaded arrived and it was a darker day than I could have imagined.
The night before we watched in disbelief as hundreds of tiki-torch bearing hate mongers paraded around our town like so many teeming cockroaches. We felt defiled as we watched them march around the Rotunda, which Jefferson had envisioned to be a Temple of Enlightenment. We were sickened to watch them assault our students.
We spent the next morning like any other Saturday, but we held our breaths and anxiously, futilely hoped for a peaceful day. We drove our kids to soccer and their piano lessons. We waited for a piano to be delivered to our house. All the while we followed the events that were unfolding in our town. We anxiously watched for posts from our friends, neighbors, and clergy, who were bravely trying to keep the peace and spread a message of love to counter the message of hatred and divisiveness brought in by outsiders. We reeled in horror as we watched the footage of the terror attack on the Downtown Mall that resulted in the death of one and injuries to many.
In the afternoon my boys asked if they could drive down to the river to go fishing. I readily agreed, thinking it would be good for them to get outside and away from it all, but then immediately regretted it. They were so excited about their excursion that I didn’t have the heart to make them stay home. I did dampen their high spirits and detain them with stern warnings to be cautious: “Swear to me you’ll leave right away if you see sketchy people hanging around by the river. There are a lot of really bad people in Charlottesville today. They’re brawling in the streets.”
And then I heard myself saying: “It might be dangerous for you, because you don’t look white.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I couldn’t believe they had. The primal fear I felt for the safety of my children filled me with shock mingled with sorrow, mingled with rage. Until yesterday, the progressive bubble that is Charlottesville had sheltered me from the fear people of color experience around the country on a daily basis.
“We’re not going to church tomorrow,” my husband announced later that day, “It’s a well-known liberal church right next to the university and it’s not safe to be there.” I’m going to be honest…for half a minute, I was glad to have an excuse to sleep in for a change. But then I came to my senses. Oh, HELL no. This is OUR town for God’s sake. I would not be intimidated from going to church of all places.
I thought the church would be empty, but it was a full house this morning. The pews were full of brokenhearted, but not broken people. Through tears we sang and prayed. We prayed for Heather Heyer, who lost her life yesterday. We prayed for the police helicopter pilots, who died in the line of duty. We prayed for all the injured, and for the doctors and nurses who were caring for them in our local hospitals. We prayed for all of the people in our community, whose hearts, like ours, were breaking.
You know who else we prayed for?
We prayed for the “children of God,” who came to our beautiful little town yesterday to sow hatred and wreak havoc.
Can you imagine that? That’s Charlottesville, the town I know and love.
God help us all.