On Monday, I had to return to teach at Berklee, and for the first time ever, I confess I was afraid to go back to work. After all the craziness of last week, the fact that life seemed to suddenly be part of some episode of NCIS, CSI and Flashpoint all rolled into one, it felt surreal to be heading back to life as usual. After last week, life feels a little bit like it won’t ever be “usual” again.
Like the rest of the world, I pretty much spent last week glued to the television. I watched replays of the bombings so many times on so many networks. I became so familiar with the footage, I found myself focusing on specific people; the man in the blue jacket who tries to pull down the barricade so that he can climb over to help the victims, the woman in the yellow jacket crouching down with her hands on her ears, the tall man in the bleachers who looks around in confusion as the second explosion goes off. Then, when the “Dragnet” portion of the week began, I kept the tv on even when I left the room, so that I would hear any updates as they came in.
And then, suddenly it was over, and I didn’t know what to feel. Anxious, relieved, sad, incredulous, proud, angry. I felt it all. Crazy times. And really, how are we supposed to return to “life as usual” after all that?
But here it was…Monday morning, and I had a full day of teaching at Berklee ahead of me. What to say to these poor students; these young people whom I call my other kids? I wasn’t sure if we should jump back into work or dive into how everyone was processing everything. It turns out a combination of both those things got us through the day.
As I think back on the day, one encounter with a student has stayed with me. On a regular day, this student is a very engaged songwriter, a lively presence in class discussions and someone whose personality shines. On Monday, I was struck by how cowed and introverted she was. She was close to the second explosion, and she shared with us that she’d seen some terrible things. It was like she’d been touched by certain kind of darkness. And I could visibly see how it had affected her.
At midday, the Berklee community was invited into the Performance Center for an all-school meeting. For the next hour, we heard some lovely music performed by students and then speeches by Roger Brown and Larry Simpson. While I enjoyed the music, I was certainly more on edge than I’ve ever been. And there was definitely a police presence at the door, checking all student ids and looking through all our bags. At the end of the meeting, everyone was asked to come and share if they wanted to. Microphones were set up in the aisles of the BPC. One faculty member spoke eloquently that seeing all the people who stepped into help, inspired her to think of ways to volunteer and help her community. And she urged all of us to do the same. Great food for thought, as far as I’m concerned…
My day ended with a strange side effect from that evening’s Red Sox game. While I was teaching my afternoon classes, I couldn’t help but notice the constant sound of helicopters overhead. I guess they were monitoring Red Sox traffic, but one of my students remarked that this “soundtrack” during class was making him a little anxious. Sure, it was probably just the press covering the game. But still… At least for the immediate future, I think all of us will wonder if that approaching siren, or those churning blades overhead mean something more is going on.
I’ve heard about the concept of a “new normal”. I know I felt the world change and darken after 9/11, and I had a similar sense of emotional vertigo this week. I know time will dull these feelings, but my “life as usual” now has an edge to it. And I guess that’s the new normal for now.