Escape from the turmoil is not an option when you care about the world

Tom Stafford
Caption
Tom Stafford

The light had turned red.

Cars were slowing to a stop.

And as I rolled up to the one in front of me, I was lost in banks of huge white clouds.

My head knew it was just the reflection from the rear windshield in front of me.

But by the time the thought arrived, my mind had followed the reflection upward.

The worries that had weighed on me like gravity were gone.

Thousands of feet above the ground, I was in those clouds — carefree, feeling as bright as a county fair balloon and as giddy as a boy with helium in his lungs and Donald Duck’s voice on his mind.

It was a great, if momentary escape.

In this time of turmoil and confinement, I feel particularly sorry for those who are trapped inside both buildings and themselves.

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Sorry for people like my mother, 92, whose hopes for a simple walk outside around her care facility were squelched after a resident and relative hugged on such a walk and both later tested positive for COVID-19.

In what must seem like a 90-day sentence in county jail, Mom tries to keep active by following her walker down a hallway that has become her exercise yard. She struggles not to complain about all the small things that cling to our nerves while we are in solitary confinement, knowing that others have it worse.

I tell her it’s OK, and that the annoyance she feels is real, as are the ups and downs.

Because, unlike me, she can’t drive north on U.S. 68 past the Mayberry station, then curve west past Walt’s Auto and see the evening sky spread out as two lanes expand into a divided highway.

Tuesday, the light coming over the horizon there was a pastel somewhere between pink and salmon that turned rolls of cottony clouds into candy as sweet to my eye as a Stewart’s orange cream soda is to my mouth.

A day later, a jagged gash of orange and red that swept across the television screen sent me out to the front porch to a front row seat to a thunderstorm.

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Plopping downside with my feet up on the porch swing, I pulled the chain toward me to get the swing rocking and then waited.

At first, only the occasional fleck of water made its way under the branches of maples and over the fingers of greenery that sway in front of our house like a fan-blown attention-getter at a car lot.

The words “amber waves of rain” came to my mind as drops that pounded the pavement were swept across my field of vision by gusts that sprayed mist over my skin. In case I didn’t get the thundering message that I was nothing in the scheme of things, the winds kept buffeting the trees for hours.

When it just kept on, I looked west expecting some giant to march over the horizon holding a mammoth leaf blower and wearing a gas engine backpack.

Like the clutch of robin’s eggs by our garage, the iridescent yellow of gold finches along the bike trail, and the hummingbird doing its impossible flight at our porch feeder, natural things have helped to keep me anchored.

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Others like them have allowed my wife to endure the weight in our son’s voice as he talks with us from his apartment off of Lake Street in Minneapolis. As he struggles with injustice in the world, she worries over his struggles, both aware there are heavier moments born by mothers and sons of other colors.

My escapes into nature have also allowed me to catch my breath and return to Facebook to check on a friend whose wife and children watched as he’s been put on ventilator, then been taken off, only to be put back on once again.

Again, my worries are smaller.

And I think, too, of those in the South who, in addition to all this, are in the early days of hurricane season.

Given the nature of the world at the moment, I’m sure I’ll keep escaping into the world of nature - or music or books — now and then. But not too far.

Because the people I care about live in this real world.

And to care for them, I must care about it as well.