Sometimes it seems the whole world is topsy turvy and upside down.
If the global pandemic wasn’t enough, we now have killer hornets buzzing around and television screens which crackle with the sound of gunfire and stun grenades and make us dizzy and exhausted with the searing images of tear gas, tanks, and turmoil on our city streets.
It’s all enough to make the Time Traveler wonder if perhaps the time machine was stuck in the late 1960s.
Yet, as I look around there are signs that life is slowly and gradually returning to the new kind of normal that vaguely resembles the world before the icy frost that encrusted our old, familiar world melted away in mid-March like frosting on a birthday cake left out too long in the harsh sun. The words to the strange Seventies’ ballad “MacArthur Park” never made any sense until now.
Yes, I for one feel as if I am treading water on a pond. I no longer have to hold my breath, but my legs are tired and my arms are sore. I am trying to make it to shore. But as I glance up, I notice that the planes have begun to fly over again, their contrails draping the clear blue sky like the tail of a child’s kite stretching across the heavens.
I notice that the wet velvety nose of a bird dog riding shotgun in the open cab of a pickup is tilted upward, pointing up and out towards unseen prey, sniffing out perhaps the odious, deadly coronavirus itself and chasing it back into the dark woods from which it came.
Other sights I see are also oddly comforting. Horses graze in a sunlit pasture behind the broken coils of barbed wire along Swinnea and Star Landing roads, kicking up small swirls of dust as they stamp their feet. A scrawny colt rolls in the dirt, completely oblivious to distant, shouting voices a thousand miles away.
A young woman, wearing a mask, carries a cake she has just bought from Old Towne Bakery in Olive Branch, striding down the crosswalk and lifting her mask ever slightly to smell the warm, sweet confection she carefully holds in her hands.
A stranger, without a mask, approaches, smiles, and I can hear her say, “that smells so good.”
It is as if both women are inhaling the invigorating aroma of life itself, an almost forbidden act now to savor and enjoy the joy of living among the pandemonium.
The cultural divide doesn’t always have to be so sharply delineated. The street on this Saturday morning seems wide enough for all.
Businesses are opening. Children swing once again in city parks. The splash of swimming pools can be heard from behind wooden backyard fences.
Church folks are dusting off their pews and welcoming worshippers. Visitors from around the world will soon be able to pull off the interstate once again and view the amazing history and exhibits on display at DeSoto County’s award-winning museum.
The crack of hickory bats and ping of aluminum echoes at Greenbrook Softball Park in Southaven where my teenage daughter now spends her late spring afternoons. Shouts of “Play ball!” can be heard.
Summer is just around the corner. We don’t want to rush it. The natural ebb and flow of the seasons have been interrupted enough.
There will soon be family reunions and weddings and swim parties, although people might pull their lawn chairs just a little farther away from where they used to be positioned, elbow to elbow with the myriad aunts, uncles, cousins, and the neighborhood children, once so close you could smell the chlorine in their hair or the sunscreen on their noses.
If I could indeed travel back in time, I now often wonder if I would, knowing the travail that was to come in the journey ahead.
Perhaps, I would try to take a detour, like the loops that take us off the busy expressways and wind out into the countryside where one can smell the honeysuckle, the freshly-plowed fields, even the acrid mist of cotton poisoning from low-flying crop dusters which perform almost circus-like acrobatics in the delta sky.
Or maybe I would just face the music, like a traffic jam that you just have to push through, or wait silently until the danger ahead has evaporated and the debris is cleared.
The way ahead for all of us will not be easy but we have to find out how to get beyond the roadblocks, the obstacles so that we can safely reach our appointed destinations.
The journey, after all, is what shapes us. It colors our world and provides the narrative of our lives. Our stories — the ones that we are telling each other now, will one day be told from around distant campfires long into the future.
Let’s not miss a moment of it — even when the trip seems long and strange.
Robert Lee Long is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.