I watch my feet descent the steps of the school hallway on my way out after class; black dimpled mats cover nearly century old steps and appear to be new relative to the structure beneath. They cover what I know is an ancient old school, with Hogwarts-like hallways, twists and turns that no wheelchair could successfully navigate, many flights of stairs built only for the able-bodied. Step down. Perhaps it is the nostalgia of old buildings, preserving structures which has preserved this privilege, and that may be central to what has now become quite public. Step down. The stair coverings are new, the purple paint, the gym equipment, the field, and even much of the furniture is new. But, my mind in this moment of departure, is on my foot falls, is on the steps, and not on the testimonies, the students screaming accusations outside the building. Step down. I am deep inside myself returning to the ways that I begin to know my students, the irreplaceable communication that happens with presence, a breath of a moment. Step down. I wonder to myself if blindness raises this knowing, if presence of the other comes to the sightless mind in a way which vision impedes. Maybe we are looking on the surface too much. Step down.
I reach the landing with yellow taped arrows and blocked off sections of tiled flooring remind me of the “social distancing”. Another wondering invades the movement where I notice nostalgia binding us to a past that we remember, that is comfortable, and a heaviness presses on my chest pushing out breath, not quite physical, but there nonetheless. There is the weight of making high school memorable, of making it about something more than survival. This has been walking with me, unacknowledged tension always hovering at the forefront of my mind like a gnat, barely visible and a reminder of absent presence.
I am carrying my bag, the weight heavy, even with little more than my laptop and mouse. In class today, I noticed the lifeless air in the room, but it wasn’t really the air, it was the mood, reading bodies, in the building, on the screen. Those grade nine students were there, but not there today; many were mentally wandering in some other place, maybe full of nostalgia, maybe full of longing. I tried to lift them, pretended that I didn’t notice and did my best to smile behind the mask, spending time beside them, showing them online material, cautiously selecting every movement, every word, every subtle message that my body might betray my state while navigating a difficult digital world where they really would rather not be.
I reach the 25 foot high oak wooden door at the front of the school, lean in to make it move, and wonder how many have crossed this ancient threshold. Old ways are like old doors; they are hard to move and require some leaning in. Old ways are safe and support the privileged. Another set of stairs greets me before I will make it to the ever changing magnificent maple whose orange and yellow leaves are drifting, are caressing the hood of my car. Step down.