This week, we welcome guest columnist Allia Layne Shaver, age 15.
Fred Rogers, of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” had a favorite quote—“One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eye.” (“The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.) This quote was framed and kept in his office. It is a meaningful quote. Sometimes I have to close my eyes to see things more clearly. The pandemic has had my eyes wide open too many times to count. I’m learning that sometimes it is necessary for me to close my eyes to pray, think, and to find and appreciate what is essential in “my neighborhood.”
When everything shut down in March of 2020, I remember my mom watching a few episodes of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” I watched with her. Mr. Rogers was such a kind, gentle, and caring person. His teachings on talking about feelings and fears were comforting. We also listened to “Mr. Chuck” (Chuck Loudin) from the Child Development Center, as he read stories on Facebook. We loved the story he wrote and illustrated about the squirrel being helped by his neighbors. Mr. Chuck is another kind, gentle, and caring person! It was nice for us to hear his familiar voice, and this somehow made me feel safer. Praying to God helped me to trust Him more and believe that things would eventually be okay.
My school, Notre Dame High School, started online classes. The teachers were amazing and helped us to adjust to total online learning while they were adjusting to total online teaching. A counselor, Jackie Reed, kept in touch with us to see how we were doing and if we needed anything. NDHS had morning prayer on FaceTime. When the school returned to in-person learning, I stayed home continuing online learning due to health risks. It was hard to see where everything was going at the time, but I found that I really like both online and in-person learning. My dance school, Nina Scatteregia’s The Dance Factory, kept us dancing online. Now we are all back to dancing together again. I close my eyes and pray that the COVID-19 variants will not take us backwards.
My grandfather, Carl Ford, died during the pandemic. He was in the hospital several times before he died. We weren’t permitted to see him. I FaceTimed with him, but it wasn’t the same as being with him, making him laugh, hugging him. I finally saw him when he was at home on hospice. It was the night before he died. I went to tell him goodbye for now. I was afraid of seeing him. He had been sick for so long and he lost so much weight. He looked so different, but he was still my Pappy. His soul, the special essential part of him that I could not see, was still there. I closed my eyes and prayed for him to go peacefully. I told him I loved him and would see him again in heaven. I believe he heard me. I miss him! Every day I miss him! My grandmother, Janet Ford, moved to Florida to live with my aunt and uncle. I miss her every day.
My grandfather, James Shaver, has been sick and then had to have several surgeries during the pandemic. We were not allowed to visit him for the longest time! My Amo Florencia, PapPaw Jim’s wife, takes the very best care of him. He is doing better now and we can visit him. I “hug the stuffing” out of him and Amo every time. I have closed my eyes in prayer so many times to pray for him and others every day. We FaceTime with family and friends but can’t wait until we can all be together again. Air hugs just aren’t the same.
I have loved my neighbors, Sharon and Randy McNemar, from the start. They have always watched out for me and my family. When we were sick, they brought us medicine and offered to bring us food. They always think of us and other neighbors too. Another wonderful neighbor, Dr. Greenbrier Almond, who I feel like I’ve known for a while through his books, is even nicer than I ever imagined. He is so interesting to talk with! His faith in God encourages us, even while he is grieving the loss of his wife, Araceli. He encouraged me as a fellow writer by inviting me to write this essay.
I don’t have to close my eyes to see what is good in many of my neighbors, teachers, family and friends. Their inner essential being shines through. It is easy to see them with my heart. It isn’t easy to see everyone with my heart. Lesson learned that I hope to keep learning—to close my eyes when it is necessary to “see” what is invisible to the eye in ALL of my neighbors.
—Allia Layne Shaver