“I will imagine my path home now, so I may travel it tomorrow.”
I had a realization the other day.
I had just gotten off a FaceTime date with three of my young and energetic nephews. They had already been in Zoom school all day. They were wiped out. Our conversation was short, unfocused. It was clear they needed to get off the phone—too much screen time today. We hung up.
“Oh my god,” I thought to myself. “I have become screen time.”
I used to be an active, in-person part of their little lives—and now for them I’m just a video on the screen among a long list of other humans and activities vying for their attention via electronics.
Since the shutdown started in March and all of our communication moved online and over the phone, we have been forced to adapt. We are grateful for the technology. At least we can still see each other; something unimaginable had this happened just a few decades ago. We can continue to have and experience events in ways we never thought possible—I have performed in and seen plays, gone to birthday parties, and even a wedding all over Zoom.
But, we must acknowledge part of this adapting is built on a lie: that we are actually looking people in the eye. For every in-person interaction we have lost, we have replaced it with an alternative that reduces us, despite our best efforts, into a box on a screen. We are all screen time now.
I live in New York. I’m from Washington state. By the time COVID hit the New York area much of the city had fled to their families in other states or towns but my hometown was already a hotspot. Going back home was not an option. By May, I fantasized about renting a camper van, packing a week’s worth of food, and making the journey across country without ever having to leave the van. The idea was nixed. I remember my parents saying, “It’s okay. We’ll just see you next year. Hopefully, sooner.”
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By fall, the numbers lulled and the hope they would continue to stay low cracked open the possibility that a visit home in December was possible. But then, the numbers began to rise again and this week we made the call. My parents, understandably, do not want me to come home for the holidays—the risk for everyone is too high. I know this is the right choice, but once again, we are making the painful decision to extend separation from loved ones and move what would be in-person to a screen.
Like many, I am fatigued. Tired of the separation. Tired of the FaceTimes and Zooms. Tired of choosing not to travel. Tired of choosing not to see friends. Tired of cancelling gatherings. Tired of distancing masked and outside. Tired of being scared and paranoid. Tired of missing people. Tired of tired. I wish I had the super power to fly or teleport to Seattle without any risk of contracting or spreading this insidious disease.
But then, I realize I do have a super power: My imagination is my super power. I have made a living playing make-believe and now I must play make-believe for the living.
So, I use my imagination to travel home. I find the similarities and parallels of the landscapes and landmarks I love in my adopted home and replace each with one from my place of birth.
As I drive through the winding mountain roads of the Catskills in upstate New York, my mind replaces them with the evergreen lined mountain roads of the Northwest.
As I make my way into Manhattan, a skyline I love, I replace it with the other skyline of my heart—and the Empire State Building is now the Space Needle. The Brooklyn Bridge turns into the I-90 floating bridge and the East River is now Lake Washington.
As I cross the bridge, I turn my head away from the road and toward the water to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty; she is now Mount Rainier. I don’t need to replace the sunset or the clouds. They are beautiful no matter where I am.
I will imagine my path home now, so I may travel it tomorrow.
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