(The writer, 25, is a graduate of Eastern High School who is pursuing a career in musical theater.)
These are all pieces, elements of my life in the year 2020, the year we collectively experienced what at times seemed to be a complete unraveling of the senses of health, world, country and security that those who were lucky enough to experience previously had. It has been a succession of months which saw a global pandemic that has ended 1.6 million lives; murder and violence toward people of color and focus on the continued systems of racism in America; a country at war, a war of beliefs and morals and humanity and a country that has divided itself into blue and red; wildfires and countless other natural disasters in which we’ve heard the anguished call of Mother Earth; and so many more rips and tears, big and small, in a perhaps never-fully-realized blanket of peace, equality, and worldwide health in more ways than one.
Through all of this, I have been here, in Lansing, in my place of privilege, able to keep myself safe and healthy, but always watching the world, the country, and my communities.
I was born in 1995 and raised on the east side of Lansing. In 2013, I graduated from Eastern High School and went on to study musical theater in college. I moved to New York City in January 2019, and lived there full time until this past March, when the gradual shutdown of the theater industry and the city as a whole left me, like thousands of other NYC-based artists, questioning my future, immediate and long term. I made the day-long journey from the Fort Lee Budget car rental to my mecca of sorts, the place which will always be the beginning of my story, Lansing. Crossing the George Washington Bridge as I exited Manhattan on that early March morning left me feeling, in part, that I was jumping ship and watching the Titanic sink from my privileged security, but I thought it was best, and that I would find safety and comfort in the city that created me, the city that had always been there for me and with me.
There is an energy in Lansing that is so incredibly personal to me, an energy that is embedded in my memories and my senses. I feel it when I bike down Michigan Avenue to the Capitol and spend some suspended moments looking up at it, as if for the first time. I feel it walking through Eastfield, the neighborhood where I spent the first years of my life, passing the houses of my grandmother, of neighbors and of childhood friends long moved away. I felt it when I went for a walk my first full day back in Lansing, and my legs brought me to the grand building on the corner of Marshall and Saginaw, the building I knew as Pattengill Middle School. I stood by entrance 31, where I spent nearly every morning for two and a half years, waiting with friends to be let in so we could stow our instruments in their lockers until band class. I looked out onto the western landscape from my vantage point, which afforded views of LCC and their new track, the fields where I flew kites as a child and watched fireworks on the 4th of July, and beyond that, the Don Johnson Fieldhouse, where my own graduation ceremony was held.
It was from these places and through these passages of assuredness that I observed the events of the year happen, as they did so mercilessly. I watched as the bare bones of our world, the broken parts of our systems and societies, were exposed. I read and heard about people battling for and losing their lives, whether from a disintegration of their respiratory system, or at the barrel of a gun held by one intended to protect and serve. I participated in the ways I knew how — wearing masks everywhere except for my home, marching for justice with beautiful groups of heartbroken people, trying to find peace in everyday life and pass that on to others. It was perhaps a period most defined by my disillusionment — with the world, with my career and the future of my industry, with the morality of America, with the total, raw desperation and need of millions of people. Some days I so passionately wanted to make a change and help to such an extent, and yet I couldn’t manage to make coffee, my mind so debilitated by the most recent death count. It’s been a year of thought and reflection, on where I need to go from here, what steps I need to personally take to aid in the healing of our world. We’ve experienced trauma, and there is a long road of recovery ahead.
Let us memorialize those we lost this year, and never forget the beauty of their lives.
I can say that I am extremely grateful to have had the solace of Lansing to come to, rife with some of the most important people and memories of my young life. I will return to New York, and will continue to work toward my aspirations, but I will always carry with me the weight of what this year became and how it shifted something in my mind and soul.
Where do we go from here?
Step by step, one day at a time.