The Lady at The Common
Her dress is muted, elegant. And she leans slightly forward, extending a gloved hand, as though gesturing to her two girls, “Oh, look at the birds. Aren’t they sweet?”
In the gorgeous rose of twilight, the mother and children stand on a slushy sidewalk, arrested by nature itself, as the world swirls.
I was first enchanted by Childe Hassam’s oil painting Boston Common at Twilight more than a decade ago when I spied it on the wall of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts during a spring break trip with my kids. Recently widowed, I felt weak when I wanted to be strong. I detected formidable power in the stillness at the center of the painting. Also, it glowed. I wanted to be part of that light.
In mid-March, administrators at the private boys’ high school where I teach writing in Newark, N.J., closed the facility due to health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic and moved us to distance learning. Since, I have worked weekdays from a seat at my dining room table. A print of Hassam’s painting hangs on the wall behind me, clearly visible over my shoulder during Zoom and Google meets.
Since the advent of COVID-19, I have feared death. I’ve watched others go through devastating loss. There’s a reason I keep this painting close. I bask in its beauteous glow. The “lady” of this 1885 work is my best self. She is alone in the world with her children. Yet, she keeps her cool. Distractions—the chaos of the nearby street, jammed with noisy horse-drawn trolleys—do not rattle her. And threats, the imminent approach of dark-coated pedestrians marching at dusk with a silent inexorability, faze her not.
Like her, I realize, I rest in the beauty and love within me, drawing strength, ever moving forward.
Kitta MacPherson is a science writer and English teacher who lives in New Jersey with her family.
Childe Hassam (1859-1935) was an American Impressionist painter.