A not so funny thing happened on my way to this post.
This post was going to be a sharing of news I got last November that my books were to be in the library of the USS Vermont, a Virginia-class attack submarine due to be commissioned April 18 in Groton, Connecticut. I wanted to share that because, no matter what you think of submarines, that’s kind of cool to think of this unique placing of these books and the special people who might just, for lack of other entertainments, read them. That was my thinking a few months ago anyway; cool, what a neat opportunity. Since then I have fumbled with false starts of this post. What should the point of it be really?
I can only hope that the books donated by Vermont authors brings some pleasure and connection to the sailors sequestered leagues beneath the sea for months at a time; I wondered at the life of a submariner, surreal to me. I became increasingly humbled by the fact of the service and commitment of this boat’s crew, got derailed by thinking about the unusual and dangerous situation they would willingly enter. I couldn’t imagine what that experience must be like; I knew I would never want to find out for myself.
I spoke with a former principal who had served in the navy on a submarine before he became an educator. Decades later he says still not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about that time; that there is no feeling like the final closing of the hatch, knowing you’d be submerged for months on end. It was that comment about the closing of the hatch that struck me most from my conversation with this former naval officer. It seemed eerie, and, again, hard for me to imagine. That conversation was a few weeks ago.
The not so funny thing that happened on my way to this post is that I can now better imagine that closing of the hatch. We all can. As the executive orders from the governor were issued, as I said goodbye to friends and colleagues and we retreated to our respective homes, I could more easily imagine the grim metallic finality of a closed hatch, of leaving the light and air of the known world.
As we shelter at home we do have light and air and internet. But even so, we are going to places and depths we had never imagined ourselves. Just as when I was fumbling earlier to write about the USS Vermont, I again recall Robert Macfarlane’s Underlands in which he speaks of how darkness might be a medium of vision, and that descent may be a movement towards revelation rather than deprivation. We can only hope that in these dark times we dig deep and emerge not overwhelmed by what we’ve lost, but as better humans for what we’ve learned and gained for knowing darkness and loss from our own isolated “underland”. Into the underland, Macfarlane says, we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save. We are facing fears and uncertainties, including fears of human traits that we abhor. But we also can exhibit and can expect to encounter the human traits of kindness and generosity that humanity is capable of. We can aspire and inspire, even from our time in the dark.
I’m still fumbling with this post. So much has changed since I put it on my to-do list. I can only assume that the USS Vermont will launch, though surely not as planned. Perhaps the crew has been, or will be, quarantined prior to setting out and closing the hatch. I will wonder and worry about those people, just as I now wonder and worry about all of us and our neighbors the world over. My naval officer turned educator friend said what made his time below bearable was the crew; the fact that they had work to do and that they all relied on one another helped them to focus and endure. We are a crew, all together as we shelter in place.
The hatch has been shut. We await its opening, and can only imagine what will be brought up from the depths and what will be left below.