The Paradox of the Beauty and the Emptiness

Right now, I could not be more grateful for what Friends School Haverford has taught me about the value of nature. As we approach 50 days at home, time outdoors has been no less than saving my family. Each day at 3:30, rain or shine, I take my two children out of the house. This past Sunday, we set out and got drenched by the steady rain as we walked to the Wissahickon Creek, which made it much easier just to get in the creek and romp around once we arrived. At that moment, I was particularly grateful to FSH for one of the best purchases I've ever made--a pair of rubber rain boots. They've allowed for half of the best adventures I've had in the last five years, with your children and my own. FSH has also taught me that the outdoors offers its own education. Nature begs questions from children, and we follow their lead in answering them. Do tadpoles breed under leaves and logs? Do frogs breathe in and out of water? Do fish prefer the still stretches of the creek or its rushing current? I didn't set off to turn my kids into stream-life enthusiasts and burgeoning fishermen--I just showed up and let the natural world do its work.

The poignancy of being outside right now never fails to strike a chord in me--the depth of the quiet, the sense that the creek belongs to us because foot traffic has disappeared, the sheer beauty of a Philadelphia spring. The emptiness delights my children, who have come to think of the woods and the local university campus are theirs alone. While I'm often grateful for the expansive space because it means I can stash my mask in my pocket and breathe the air, it stirs such sadness in me that I often find myself lagging behind them, so they don't see my tears. The paradox of the beauty and the emptiness gets me every single time.

I haven't been back to Friends School Haverford's campus in April because, in so many ways, I know my heart couldn't bear it. I know, though, that it is particularly beautiful. In all its glory, the campus is blooming and green and, at certain moments of the day, exquisitely quiet. I know that May will bring me back there--to coordinate the return of student belongings and to open a handful of relevant mail. As soon as it's possible, I hope we'll all gather there again, 6 feet apart, and remember together how important it is to breathe the air, learn from the trees, and get our hands dirty. We will, of course, be sure to wash them so thoroughly that it hurts.