Finding diversions, escapes, and places of refuge

Finding diversions, escapes, and places of refuge

One More Thing

With the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel now growing brighter, it might be a good time to ponder how the pandemic changed the way we looked at things over the last year, including our own behavior.

When the lockdowns were at their worst, and we were pretty much prohibited from going anywhere that wasn’t in Rhode Island, the circumstances of our confinement presented a major challenge to the imagination.

The necessity of limiting exposure to the virus demanded that we develop new ways to relate to the world. Despite predictable grousing from some quarters, large numbers of us adapted to the wearing of masks and the use of hand sanitizers.

What proved more difficult to adjust to were the restrictions on travel and getting together with friends and family. Most of us were forced to seek alternatives to the normal diversions that had long been second nature to us.

No clamcakes and chowder at the favorite restaurant by the shore. No all-you-can-eat chicken dinners indoors. No going to live sporting events. Going to a play or a movie or having dinner or drinks in a restaurant with those in your social circle was made off limits. So, finding other options became crucial.

That meant adjusting the focus on your mental lens, narrowing the field, seeking creative ways to get outside the confines of the house and yard.

Small, previously ignored oases near home became the object of search and discovery missions, which is how we came upon a pocket-sized park in nearby Burrillville while driving area back roads. Barely bigger than a subdivision house lot, the tranquil little spot by a pond became a favorite destination for impromptu picnics.

Having found that eating in the car didn’t need to be limited to morning coffee and bagels from the drive-through, we equipped the SUV with a stack of what Italian families call the mopine, otherwise known as a dishtowel. Piled in the backseat until called upon, they make excellent bibs, oversized napkins, or emergency personal tablecloths.

The tiny park became a frequent destination for spur-of-the moment meals throughout the summer and fall. The mini park had one solitary wobbly wooden picnic table. There were never more than two other vehicles there. The occupants of one pickup truck, carrying a small boat in the back, were a grandfather and grandson who came to fish.

Once, in July, some enthusiastic adolescent youths roamed the area and tentatively tossed firecrackers on the ground. They were simply having fun, not destroying anything or disturbing anyone.

Socially distanced, we talked convivially to a long-bearded New Hampshire native, who was a RISD employee. He was riding about on his motorcycle, exploring the Rhode Island outback. We compared notes on social isolation and the rewards of quiet reflection while observing nature up close.

Sometimes we were there by ourselves. Always it was charming and relaxed, a no-pressure foray into a world that felt calming, safe, and restorative. It isn’t always necessary to go to Yellowstone Park to experience the benefits of contemplating nature. A tiny getaway 10 miles from home has its own appeal, especially when just getting past the end of your own driveway is an adventure.

It was also a revelation to learn that the idea of having lunch in the car was a refreshing spontaneous avenue for escaping the mundane, and it was available with almost no advance planning. If time were constrained, it wasn’t necessary to go farther than Deerfield Park or even the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in town.

Prior to COVID-19, who bothered to scope out the ideal parking place near the local McDonald’s to pull into and devour your Big Mac? Viewed with a little imagination even the most crowded lot has some sort of vista worth seeing. Learning this is a perspective-changing revelation.

Sometimes watching the traffic on Route 44 while parked near an evergreen tree can be enlightening, even entrancing. Watching the expressions on the faces of driver after driver going by is akin to a kaleidoscope of instant mug shots chosen at random. Guessing their mood or their mission is harmless entertainment.

Just seeing the birds coming and going, eating their fill while you eat yours, makes you think about your niche in the hierarchy of living things. Newfound appreciation is acquired this way. With the time and circumstances imposed upon us by the virus, we somehow became more aware of what had been right before our eyes every day.

And if the inner awareness fostered by the pandemic made us more spiritually attuned, there are places to visit in that vein too. One that is not far away is the shrine of St. Theresa of Lisieux, also located in Burrillville. For many, it might seem a worthy refuge from the stress and uncertainty which has been all too present for far too long.

The first shrine in the world dedicated to St. Theresa (also known as The Little Flower), the retreat invites contemplation and silent reflection. Begun nearly a century ago, its consecrated statuary, stone monuments, and quiet paths create a welcoming space for surrendering the anxieties and tensions of a year-long battle for equilibrium amidst dreadful uncertainty. To believers or those who are not, alike, it offers a respite to anyone seeking renewal. Couldn’t we all use a little of that right about now?

(Contact me at smithpublarry@gmail.com)

Bottom Lines

Last time I asked what was depicted on the weathervane atop William Winsor School in Greenville. Apparently, it stumped everyone. No one replied. The scene is of a teacher in front of her class. According to the Historical Society of Smithfield, “the Winsor School weathervane had adorned the top of the William Winsor School on Putnam Pike in Smithfield since the school opened in 1931. The weathervane was blown off its setting during a severe windstorm in March of 2019 and suffered damage in the process making it impossible to return it to its place.”