By: Edwin Santos
Hyde Park is certainly less alive than it was before, though this may be more metaphoric than literal. At the same time, this lack of life may be its strong suit and that lacking may be what preserves the life there is now hidden underground.
Staying in Hyde Park now means listening to light voices on the edge of audibility instead of the usual clamor you find in a park. The door closing and child shouting in the different apartments is not only more tolerable but much more welcome. And it is a gift to live so near a park. Even on the busy days when going outside isn’t really an option, there are still people out the window. Many fewer than before; instead of brushing elbows with people, everyone makes a wide berth while passing. If you go to the grocery store, you pass by only one person or a pair at most. The streets are missing people on their bikes and groups of friends going to Peet’s or Five Guys. It’s nice to not worry about Chicago drivers stropping a foot away from you on 53rd, but you also have to wonder where they are.
The situation most of us are facing is a situation of strong absence. Maybe some of us are now roommates with siblings and flocked by eight people in one house. Or it’s being the chick returned to what was an empty nest a few weeks ago feeling something oddly similar to high school. Not being in the same bedroom back in California helps to stave off the sense of repetition which some of you may be facing, but when I look out the window, that which draws our attention most strongly is what is missing. Showing the picture of the empty park to a Hyde Parker one year ago would have elicited a strong sense of surprise, but it would not have elicited what it may now: alarm.
It’s not uncommon for first years to go back home once they’ve wrapped up their first three quarters to spend their summer at home and reconnect with high school friends. But this is not like that. The riskier of us venture out to see friends, but everything is with risk. There could be parents waiting at home presenting one condition or another or siblings thrown into a dangerous moment. Nobody asked for a fragile immune system, but here they may be trying to wrap their heads around how the plastic bags from the grocery store could now be such a great threat. It’s a strange fragility when something as normal as an Amazon package can become something urgent and something to be cautious of. We may plan well ahead to return every summer to spend time with everyone. We may plan to get groceries every Saturday and to take a little bit longer in the grocery store when we go together because when you’re with people, every little thing can become so interesting. We expect so much, and that’s exactly why the reduction to so little is so startling. Our friends are now behind screens and restaurants are behind windows and for most of the day the world is behind the walls of our homes.
A park doesn’t mean as much if it’s as good as a painting on your wall. Making milkshakes is fun but it can feel decidedly different if you were used to getting boba with your friends every now and then. We’re not even awake to know how we sleep at night, but every morning we wake up, this exact situation was likely not intended. For most of us, we were intending to inadvertently walk a mile or two while going from the Reg to Cobb to Harper and milling about the quad because the spring is nice and indoors is not. The voices we hear on a daily basis may be far outnumbered by the voices we’re waiting to hear that at best may be pushed back to summer, lest we speak about how far they may be pushed back now. During the quarter, it’s not uncommon to be waiting. Waiting for this week to be over because of course we’re going to have so much free time and we’ll pace out our work well so that we’re not up late and then we’ll go to the quad and just lounge…
But we usually choose to wait. At least we get to choose to put things off until midterms are over. And we know that once finals are complete, we’re free. But this wait was not of our own volition. And we do not know when the wait will be over. And so much becomes invisible in this time. The world falls away when we’re thinking only of study, but the world too falls away when we’re only thinking of summer, autumn, winter, whenever we can be with all our friends again. The wait lasting a day is quickly satisfied because we feel it’s satisfaction on the edge of our fingertips. This wait, a wait for something uncertain until a time that is not certain, leaves us seeing empty spaces all around us. For some of us, every cup may be the same because what we drink is the passing of time away. Every word in ink or pixels on our screen may dull because boredom blurs the corners. The place we sit may be uncomfortable considering how quickly we ended up here, somewhere we were thrown to in a rather hectic bout of finals. Everything may seem a bit less real. Watching movies on our laptops instead of on the big screen. Playing soccer on screen instead of on the Midway. Life retreated rather quickly, and in it’s absence what we have left may seem more virtual than vital. We live through our expectations and fall without their consummation.
But we wait. Where there is waiting, there is hope. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6). We did not have the spring we expected and the world may feel more empty than usual. But where there is waiting there is hope that these desires will one day be met. Where there is waiting, there was love for something real and tangible our hands long to grasp. And with this hope, this wait shall not be in vain. Maybe not this day or the next, but one day the wait will be over and we may come back to the lives waiting for us in the not too distant future. Some of our trajectories may have been thrown off course, but life is nothing if not action. We wait for the day that life is restored to us because when it is, we will love it more for every day we have been kept apart. There will be something waiting for us, something incomplete. And when we are reunited, we will be granted the privilege of completing that moment so long delayed. So now we wait.
I urge everyone to remember the world is still there, though our minds set in expectation may be thinking of something not yet present. We ought think of those risking their lives in the hospitals, of those still at work, of all our friends who may now be scattered to odd ends of the globe, to say little of the country. A life in waiting can seem rather vacuous compared to a life being lived out. But there will likely be a solid number of months where we stay like this. Our duty as Christians is to care for our fellow men and women and remind them that their waiting is not in vain. Let us take heart in knowing that hope is not in vain, in the knowledge that our hope shall be consummated by something beautiful.
I shall continue looking out the window into the park. Nature is nice when no one is around, and it’s a gift to still see people walk by as seldom that may be. But I’ll be watching for the day everyone returns and the park is much more lively than this. I wait because I know this will be so. And thus I shall leave my expectations to where they belong, in the future. And for the moment, I’ll go on looking out the window.