We Are All the Lady of Shalott
Guest column by Roberta Brown
For the past few weeks, other than working from home, I have been transfixed by the unfolding story of the pandemic that has changed nearly everything. While not working, I watched or read the news, growing sadder each day. Then, this morning, while teaching a class by means of the videoconferencing software Zoom, something in me shifted.
My students and I were reading Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Lady of the Shalott which tells the story of a maiden trapped in a tower by a curse; if she looks out the window or leaves the tower, "the curse [will] come upon her." In a mirror that she uses to weave tapestries, she at least is able to see reflections of the world, and is so enamored with them, that she weaves these reflected scenes into art. People in all stations of society from the gallant knights of Camelot, to the clergy, schoolchildren, and lovers walking on the road, and farmers working in the fields are reflected in the Lady of Shalott's weaving mirror. The turning point in the poem arrives when The Lady of Shalott realizes that she is "half sick of shadows" and decides to risk the curse. She looks out the window, her mirror cracks, she ventures outside and eventually dies, but not before living on her own terms for at least a brief time.
It occurred to me that we all are like the Lady of Shalott right now, confined to the rooms within our homes, watching world events in our own mirrors—cellphones, computers, televisions. A curse will come upon us, too, if we leave home, and if most of us are not already "half sick of shadows" we soon will be. This is where the analogy breaks down, however, and thankfully so. Because we are in Grant County, New Mexico during this pandemic, we can venture outside without activating our particular curse. How many miles of trails are available to us amid how much soul-restoring scenery? We have trails close in and far off, peaks to scale, and so much nature—in springtime no less—to enjoy. How lucky are we to live where we can safely practice physical distancing and still get outside amidst glorious mountain, river, forest, or desert views?
Friends in other parts of the country describe themselves as "going crazy" in their houses during this time. And while I empathize with them, I draw comfort in realizing I will not have to be trapped in my house because I am blessed to live in Silver City where there is so much space to wander under saturated blue skies, and at this time, among blooms and greening hills. In the entire nation, probably few people enduring stay at home orders can say that they have the space and natural beauty as accessible as we do here in Grant County.
I still pen the number of dead each day in my calendar and mourn the souls those numbers represent as I do so. But on my hike today, I could not stop taking pictures.