What’s Possible

My daughter mishears that Vermont’s governor extended the Stay Home, Stay Safe order to May 31, so when I read the order is actually May 15, the extension doesn’t look so bad. In the middle of March, that date would have appeared impossible.

What’s impossible and what’s not has changed enormously in the past few weeks.

In our little world, we walk and we talk. We walk alone. We walk together. The world as we know it might possibly be crumbling around us — 30% unemployment in our state that a month ago had the second lowest in the nation, a Main Street shuttered closed, people I’ve known for years suddenly foreign in masks — but the possible continues.

Every morning — snow or not — birdsong strengthens.

My daughters and I walk out to the ruins of the town pest house, built a hundred years ago in fear of smallpox. There, geese honk clamorously on the lake. From a white pine, two large birds swoop out from the highest branches. My youngest says simply, “Eagles.”

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

— Naomi Shihab Nye, “Famous”



7 thoughts on “What’s Possible

  1. Just curious- was your town pest house also used as the local TB sanitarium? At least in the South these were large, window studded buildings for long term TB convalescence. GT

  2. Interesting question, but I don’t think so. I believe this small building was used as a preventative for smallpox and unknown fevers. It was essentially only accessible by boat or through a forest. Burlington had a very large TB sanitarium overlooking Lake Champlain. I think the serious TB cases were sent there. This looks to me like short-term quarantine quarters. But when smallpox was (mistakenly) believed to be in Hardwick, the town was sealed off from the exterior world.

  3. Fascinating- and it makes our social distancing seem kind in comparison. Like most things, I guess it’s all relative. Thanks for the reply, and hang in there. GT

    • I suppose it’s true that history should make the current social distancing seem less painful. In Vermont, too, our cases in the general public have been very low — fortunately for us, and far less fortunately for nursing homes and prisons. It’s true, too, that it seems profoundly different to know we’re living in what will be historic times. Hang in there, too….!

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