Finding meaningful moments in the midst of a pandemic
Story and Artwork by Josh Miller
“What would you save?” I remember when poet Nikky Finney posed that question to us, as we sat around the table at 1619 Flux in 2016 with the artists of Roots & Wings. In her 2013 interview with Vanderbilt’s Nashville Review, she said, “The act of saving something is not saving it like you want it to be. It’s saving it like it is.” As I ascended the ramp of the Big Four Bridge during my early morning run, headed toward Indiana, I reflected on Finney’s question – not the only one I have pondered over the past few weeks – as we seek to make sense of the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve also thought about grace. Grace to grieve. To re-define productive. To adapt and find new ways of working. Grace with ourselves and others.
Knowing that many life events – from graduations to anniversary celebrations, funerals, and long-standing traditions like the Kentucky Derby – have all been disrupted, postponed or evolved in different ways virtually, it’s important to save and share how our community is experiencing these facets of our lives and where we see hope.
“I’m trying to think about getting it right, because the act of saving something is not saving it like you want it to be. It’s saving it like it is.” — Nikky Finney
On March 18, I found myself in the doorway of the cooler behind Butchertown Grocery with Chef/Owner Bobby Benjamin as he talked about their carry-out offerings, tears rolling down his face. The thought of letting 71 of 90 employees go, while trying to save the restaurant – overwhelming him. Walking into their Bakery on his 40th birthday, he laughed as he showed me the cake his team baked- shaped like a roll of toilet paper, with the words “The Last Roll. We Love You Chef Bobby! Sorry for the sh*tty birthday!” Humor – something we all need during times like this.
For many, being forced to slow down has required us to think about what really brings value to our daily lives. Remi Dior, a content creator for Queer Kentucky, shared that “This time away from noise (job, some responsibilities, school, etc.) has given me the chance to engage in well-needed introspection. I’ve been given a chance to get to know myself. I feel as if we get caught up in the ‘come-up’ that we forget the things that make our souls smile.”
Having spent the last year and a half working with young people through IDEAS xLab’s Our Emotional Wellbeing (OEW), I’ve thought a lot about the impact on 12 to 20-year-olds across our community. On a recent OEW Instagram live, one of the students talked about their disappointment in a play being canceled they would have performed in. What are they up to? Reading trilogies like “The Hunger Games,” jumping on the trampoline and preparing to sing during our next IG Live.
17-year-old Ella Beames shared that, “I work alongside them [best friends/seniors at Walden School] to run our LGBTQ+ club, and they were some of the only people in my high school experience that made me feel like I could be completely and utterly myself without hesitation… I can’t wait to sit on the hallway floor at school with somebody and no matter who I’m with, I will look over at them, hug them and say, ‘This moment is perfect,’ because it is.”
I knew what Ella meant. On a recent Zoom call, my team member Hannah Drake said, “Josh, If I’d known the last time I would see you in person (for the time being) was our March 11 meeting at Louisville Youth Group, I would have given you a huge hug.” Walking along the waterfront in Indiana, looking at the city as the sun rises, I thought back to my list of meaningful moments – sitting around our office table laughing hysterically. Like a hug from Hannah, I look forward to those moments because they fill me up and bring out the best in me.
For college graduates, this is also a time of tremendous change. “Because I studied abroad in China in 2018, I’ve been watching the pandemic since it surfaced last fall,” said Molly Jett, a 2020 Kentucky Derby Festival Royal Court Princess, and newly named part-time temporary associate producer with WHAS11. “When Bellarmine University called off school, I was not surprised. I saw it happening in China and Italy. It was devastating as a senior, but it wasn’t about me, about college, about being a Derby Princess. It is a global disaster. Knowing Kentucky Derby Festival activities have been rescheduled to the fall is exciting. It gave us time to rest, time to think of things we are grateful for.”
On Instagram, I saw a video of Xian Brooks and Brydie Harris dancing in their backyard. “We are not disillusioned by the devastation that this virus and its social and political accoutrements have reeked,” Xian shared. “But when we are together… learning the foxtrot (and re-learning the gift of one another), sitting by the fire with our dogs and forgetting the constant quest for productivity, it feels just a little bit alright.”
The idea of what would you save – and where are you finding meaning – is reiterated by the Coronavirus Capsule created by Frazier History Museum. “This is going to be an experience of a lifetime, something we hope to never go through again,” said Rachel Platt, director of community engagement at the Frazier Museum. “This [capsule] is a service for generations to come.”
“We are not disillusioned by the devastation that this virus and its social and political accoutrements have reeked.” — Xian Brooks
Submissions have included a drawing by sophomore Kaley Stamp, who depicted her brother in a face mask “meant to symbolize the effects of coronavirus on the senior class of 2020 and all the events they’ve missed due to the outbreak,” and one by Claudia S. Geurin on the kindness of a stranger at the grocery store. The capsule is a collaboration between the Frazier History Museum, Jefferson County Public Schools, the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections and the public at large to document and preserve how people are seeing, feeling and coping with this pandemic. You can submit a contribution at fraziermuseum.org.
One of the things I plan to submit to the capsule is the artwork I’ve created during this time, including an acrylic ink collage featuring a horse as a nod to the Kentucky Derby – another one of my obsessions since childhood. I have many fond memories of Derby with Tonya Abeln, who now works for Churchill Downs. “We know that as a community – everyone is grieving,” said Tonya. “We want to offer something that lets people participate in the spirit of Derby in May while looking forward to doing it together in person in September.”
The DerbyGives.com raffle will take place April 30-May 2. “Thurby will benefit the TEAM Kentucky Fund,” Tonya explained. “Oaks Day will go to frontline medical relief, and Derby day will be an industry relief effort. One person will win half the pot, and Churchill Downs will match the other half.”
So, whether it is making time to process grief, to reconceptualize a celebration or to recognize the moments you’re grateful for during this time, I encourage you to remember that, “We are all interconnected,” as Penny Peavler said. “I hope that we take this as an opportunity to recognize that the old ‘normal’ was not good for everybody. We can create new systems that work better for all people.” V