The field behind our home belongs to Bowdoin College. On its eastern edge sits a small dorm which used to be a retirement home. In the center of the field is a picturesque, one-room schoolhouse painted all white and raised up on cinderblocks. It has been vacant for decades and now serves as a toolshed of sorts. Every year from August to May, we watch students come and go from classroom to dining hall, to dorm. In the spring they play frisbee in the back field, or lay on blankets in the sun and study. On weekend nights they walk in groups to and from parties. In the spring and autumn, I wave at them when I'm watering the garden as they stroll past. I learn to recognize and get to know some of them. I come to love others.
A couple of nights ago we got the news that the college students will not be returning to school after spring break because of the coronovirus. Their belongings will be put in storage or sent back to them at home, wherever that is. They'll spend the break with their families—at least those who have families—and some of them will come back to collect their things in a few weeks. Those who cannot return to their homes due to hot spots of coronovirus, like Italy, are allowed to stay on campus where they'll be mostly alone, though fed and supported. Classes will resume online somehow.
The absence of close to two-thousand students in this fairly small town is already palpable, and will be for some time to come. We won't see them at local establishments. We won't pass them walking to athletic practice, won't hear them laughing and cheering when the weather warms, may not enjoy seeing them in them dressed in their spring best and caps and gowns for graduation. Without them, ours will feel a bit like a ghost town. My heart already longs for them. Because of Calvin's disabilities, I grieve the fact that he'll never go to college. Instead, and though it's bittersweet, though mostly sweet, I imagine him in some of them.
At then end of every semester Michael invites his students over for dinner. It has been a tradition since he began teaching photography here twenty years ago. At those gatherings I look forward to communing with the students. Some of them I recognize from previous dinners here, their interest in photography as a means of looking at the world and themselves differently—as taught so masterfully by my husband—inspiring them to take advanced classes. Every semester there are a few who take the time to visit with me and to ask about Calvin. Some of them have made dinner for me and Michael at their apartments. Others invite themselves over here. Some have joined us for Thanksgiving. One dear has let me crash for a weekend at his family's home in Manhattan and has fed me at their restaurant. More than a handful follow my blog, for which I am most grateful. A few keep in touch after graduating by writing, calling and visiting. Some my heart has silently adopted. As if a child or brother of mine who lived with us for a stint or two, one former student's premature death I will mourn forever, just as memories of him I'll savor as life gifts. I don't remember all of their names, but some of my favorites come to mind—Arnd, Ivano, Nick, Emma, Hector, Katie, Ouda, James, Aspen, Moira, Micah, Raisa, Margot, Ahmad, Seth, Emily, Henry, Jude, Samantha, Hassan, Macy, Daniel, Victoria, Pawat, Ben, Meghan, Jean-Paul, Octavio, Drew, Blanche, Salam, Maina, Brennan, Theo, Garrett, Izzy, Darius, Trevor, J.P., Alice, Nevan, Preeti, Colin, Nate, Niles. We miss seeing all of them—all of you. I hope I didn't miss anyone.
Hopefully, sooner rather than later, we'll get on top of this coronovirus and limit its spread. The Occupant and his administration did not get off to a very good start, so its likely to get far worse before it gets better. Michael and I fear what it might mean for classes next September. I hurt for the students, especially those meant to graduate this May. But these Bowdoin College "kids" are remarkable and no doubt resilient. Others like them—so hopeful, curious, talented, generous, thoughtful, industrious—I rarely encounter.
Dear Students, call if you want. Stop by anytime, unannounced even. Try not to be strangers. We are here for you if you need. You are on our minds and in our hearts. Please know that we love and miss you.