A Walk in the Rain

I’m a walkin’ in the rain

Tears are fallin’ and I feel a pain

A wishin’ you were here with me

To end this misery

And I wonder…

—Del Shannon, “Runaway”

*********************************************

The week dawns, cool and gray, and I am determined to be more organized. I will, I decide, take my first walk of the day before I have my first cup of coffee. So, as the sky lightens, I pour fresh water into the coffee maker and put a brown paper liner in the basket. I scoop coffee into the grinder and make it hum, shaking it up between grindings.

The ground coffee (the beans come by mail from a wonderful roaster in Clintonville) smells rich and hearty. The odor wafts through the kitchen; it’s the scent of the start of day, with all the mysteries and possibilities that entails.

I pour the coffee into the filter, and I lace up my new walking shoes. I slide into a light jacket, and just before I leave, I hit ‘brew’. As I close the back door gently behind me, I hear the coffee maker gearing up with a sigh, and a pause, and a hiss.

********************

This is finals week, and I think about my classes as I push off around the block. We started off face-to-face, building the kind of momentum that meeting in a group and talking in person brings. And then there was spring break, and we returned to a different kind of environment: an online one.

This was especially hard for my gen ed students, taking a first writing class to get ready for the one that bears transferable credit. Everything was new to that small group: college expectations, college pacing, and definitely college technology.

There were hiccups as we morphed to a new kind of class delivery, but the students hunkered down and worked it through. And now, in the last week of class, most of them have found their way and their voice.

Their work has amazed me.

I round to the right, onto a larger street. Squirrels are manic this morning. I walk under a bank of shady, mature trees, and a black squirrel dithers on the sidewalk before me, maybe twenty feet away.

It sees me, freezes, then throws up its little arms.

It puts its head down and runs toward the street. Then it stops and scurries back to the sidewalk. It bounces, jittery, from side to side.

Finally, when I am less than ten feet away, it decides. It runs off into the yard and leaps into a tiny sapling, swaying the trunk as I plod on by.

Sometimes, I think, I act exactly like that, frenetically dithering.

************************

I meet my two ‘women of a certain age’ walking buddies; we stop and talk, keeping six feet between us. They hold their hands out, palms up, testing. They say they think they feel some drops.

My weather app didn’t say anything about any morning showers, I think. And they head off south while I push on.

I reach my turn-around point, waving to a hefty young guy softly jogging across the road, and I veer around an older couple in crisp cloth jackets. They are slowly walking a white-muzzled, red-haired, shaggy beast. Another jogger, sleek and intent in fitted, matching black tights and jacket, is going the way I will take up when I turn. I go an extra block or so in my turning around so we don’t have to navigate the courtesies of shared space in the outdoor COVID universe.

And as I turn around, finally, as I head back, I feel the first energetic plop of rain.

By the time I get home, my hair, missing its wonderful haircutter’s touch anyway, is a thick, wet, unruly, flattened mass.

Just because the weather app didn’t mention it, that doesn’t mean it WON’T rain.

*******************************

I spend the morning grading exam essays: it’s a good endeavor, with unique work and evidence of mastery, and I am in the happy position of awarding very high grades to almost every paper. But finally I reach a limit; my neck is aching, and I need to stand up, feed my Fitbit, and check messages.

When I grab my phone and unhook it from its charger, I see a message from the kind of friend who is almost family. Her son is a rising young professional, enthusiastic and gifted. Today, writes my friend, he has been furloughed indefinitely from a job he loves. His industry, too, falls victim to the pandemic.

I think about what it must be like to be a young person, starting a career, having done it all right—earning the degrees with great GPA’s, scooping up every chance to get the right kinds of experience, making those essential connections, landing just the right job.

And then the world is blindsided by COVID-19.

I walk to the back door and open it.

The unpredicted rain is still falling, heavy and cold.

*************************************

On Wednesday, the weather app warns of possible early showers. I get my morning walk in with no problems, though, and the little weather-app pictures under “11 a.m.” show clouds but no droplets. That’s when Mark and Jim and I head off to the college campus.

The clouds are broody gray when we park, but, hey: the app does say mostly cloudy. I help Jim untangle his ear bud cords, and he heads off to walk the front way. Mark and I decide we’ll walk through the quad and then circle around.

Mark starts to tell me something the governor said in yesterday’s briefing. He stops.

“Is that a drop?” he asks.

We keep on, though, but in ten yards or so, we have to admit there are MANY drops.

And then it is truly raining. We turn around to retrace our steps and see Jim, too, is running toward the car.

*********************************************

At home, I use the extra time to finish up grading and check student messages. I get a follow up email from a student who had written the day before. She’d said she’d been in bed for two days with a high temp, unable to eat or talk or concentrate.

I shot an email back and said, Call your doctor RIGHT NOW, even though I suspected her support system must have already insured that happened.

Today’s email says she is still very sick, and the bad news is she’s tested positive for COVID-19. She is sorry she can’t get her final exam essay in on time.

I reply, telling her we can work out an incomplete. I let her know the college has extended the incomplete period, and not to even think about it until she feels better.

I ask her if it’s okay if I pray for her.

I feel a physical thud in the floor of my gut; I push the chair away from the computer, and I step out on to the back porch.

I think about this student, very young, separated by an ocean from her family, suffering from a scary, little understood illness. I feel the dragon moving, feel the worm shift and nudge, and realize the beast is not so very far away at all. We can try, and we can follow all the rules and guidelines, we can do our best. We hope these things will help, but we none of us are guaranteed immunity.

And I watch the rain fall.

**********************************************

Thursday’s early morning walk is droplet-free; in fact, the sky is brightening like the sun might just crack through those crowds. I send off grade-posting day emails to both my classes, check averages, populate grade columns. Mark comes out of his office at about 10:45.

“Should I get my shoes on?” asks Jim, and I reflect that two months ago the boyo would not have gotten so excited about taking a daily walk. It’s a good change.

“Look how bright the sky is getting!” I say, and we agree this day is working out to be a little nicer than expected. I gather up my phone, my hanky, my keys, and join the boyos on the back porch.

They turn to me with bland faces. Someone grabbed the metallic edges of the sky-doors and pulled them open with a rusty squawk.

And, heavens opened, the rain pours down.

******************************************

So Thursday’s walk turns into a drive. As Mark pulls out of the drive, I dig my buzzing phone from my pocket. A lifelong friend has left a message. I’ll listen and call her back when we get home.

Heavy rain sluices down the windshield; James plays songs from a sixties play list. Mark pulls us out onto Route 146.

“We’re exploring,” he says before I can ask.

The rain flickers; the rain strengthens. Mark turns onto a road we’ve never taken, a meandering road that winds past a state nature preserve and opens out into other options, not all of them paved.

Wet cows stand stolidly in fields. We pass mini-mansions with broad sweeping grounds. We pass working farms. We pass bedraggled tiny homes with half a dozen rusting vehicles clogging their drives.

We crunch onto gravel, and Jim’s face clouds.

“I think I’ll listen on my headphones,” he says.

Wind gusts; rain sputters. Mark drives on, a grin tweaking the corners of his mouth. This is just the kind of exploration he enjoys.

Gravel gives way to dirt, which is quickly turning to mud. Jim pulls the ear buds out.

Annnnnnnnnd…there’s no signal,” he sighs. “We’re in a DEAD zone,” he tells his dad.

I am just about to suggest the map app when Mark sees a sign. “I know where we are!” he says triumphantly, and ten minutes later we are pulling onto a four-lane, half an hour from home.

Jim, relieved, shares some classic rock, and the rain surges and stops, surges a little less confidently, spits at us, and then takes a break.

Rain is falling when we got home, but kind of half-heartedly. A good time, we agree, for a leftovers lunch.

***************************************

Then I call my dear friend from my little study upstairs. We have a good talk, about keeping busy and active in a quarantine, about the differences between our two states’ rules and guidelines. She shares the wonderful news that her daughter is expecting. Being optimistic, she is planning a shower for summer’s end, hoping that gatherings can take place in four months’ time.

I tell her about my sick student, and she tells me about her good friend whose mother died on Sunday night.

It isn’t the first recent loss for this friend; the lady across the street passed on Easter Sunday. Unable to meet, the neighbors sowed their front windows with white fairy lights, and they turned them on at 8 p.m. on Easter Monday to honor the passed one’s memory and warm her widower with their caring. The widower’s siblings and family heard of this, and they drove to the neighborhood. They stood in the dark, six feet apart, holding candles.

And the neighbor who’d lost his wife stood in his window and soaked it all in, the glow and the warmth, the grief and the love.

My friend says the web went into action for this second loss. She got calls: Could we do this again? And so they repeated the vigil, the lights and the candles, the silent and separate ceremony. The solidarity even when they couldn’t stand together.

She says, wryly, that they seemed to have developed a COVID way of creating memorials. She hopes that few people struggle with a loved one’s death during these strange days. But, if people do, my friend says, maybe this is a way to mark that passing.

She has been my friend since high school; she has always been the one who can defuse tension with kindness, who reads the need in a person’s very posture and instinctively, compassionately, does just the right thing to make even something horrible a little bit better.

I am pretty sure the lights and the candles and the just-right way of sharing in grief in COVID days come from the caring imagination of her warm heart. But, “Ahhh, it was everyone,” she says. “Everyone together.”

*************************************************

After we talk, I tromp downstairs and post my grades. Restless, I pull on my walking shoes and my jacket and step outside. The rain has stopped, but dark clouds bank to the west. In the east, though, it looks as though the sun is still fighting to shine through.

I check the weather app on my phone. Thirty per cent chance of rain, it says. I stand uncertainly for a minute, but, really, what can I do? I step off the porch, and I start out on a walk.