Quarantine Chronicles: Mr. Murdock

By Franchesca V. and Angelina L. ’22

During this unprecedented time, people all around the world have been searching for new activities to fill their days. Some are baking and watching movies. Others have spent time catching up with old friends, and some have even thrown Zoom parties. Even in uncertainty, people are finding fun and innovative ways to connect with the communities that they hold dearest. In this interview, we asked an adored member of our Winsor community, Stephen Murdock, about what his life is looking like at home. We were interested in hearing about Mr. Murdock’s most recent adventures and discoveries as a distinguished storyteller. We learned about his adorable dog Rosie and the fact that he is now a grandfather (Congratulations!). Even though we aren’t able to hear his thoughtful anecdotes in person, we hope you enjoy Mr. Murdock’s “Quarantine Chronicles”. 

  1. While in quarantine, what has been your favorite activity to pass time?

Well, “to pass time,” like everyone, I sometimes watch television, but I try not to watch too much because it’s just so good at passing time that I end up staying up too late! I’ve also been doing a fair amount of cooking and freezing meals: squash and apple curry soup and beef stew last week.  Now I’ve got eight or nine quarts of soup in the freezer. Livin’ large!

I’m actually finding that my favorite activities have not been “to pass time.” Instead, they make me feel like I’m aware of the present moment. I’ve taken up the guitar again, and digging through my old set-lists (from when I performed in coffee houses years ago) and songbooks has been really fun. Some of the muscle memory of finger picking has returned to me, and that has been pretty amazing, given that I’m remembering songs I haven’t played in years. I remember the chords first, then the finger picking, then the words last–a strange phenomenon for an English teacher!

  1. During quarantine, many people have tried new activities. Have you tried something new while in quarantine? How did it go?

Believe it or not, I am ordering a set of watercolor paints from Amazon!  I’ve always wanted to do landscape watercolors, so why not try now? It’s just me and Rosie (Mr. Murdock’s dog), and I’ve found her to be supportive of all my artistic endeavors so far.  I’m looking forward to trying something that is not only new but for which I have NO APTITUDE!  I’m planning some of my best fails at this very moment!  It should be fun!

I’ve also been recording myself reading stories out loud at my family’s request. I’ve also recorded a few songs for my new grandson.  Like everyone, I don’t much like the sound of my voice, but it’s been “interesting.”

I’m also building some raised garden beds.

  1. What is the most exciting thing you’ve seen/experienced while in quarantine?

Becoming a grandfather!  What can I say?  And he was born on April 1st, which is a good reminder for all of us!

  1. Are there any good books you’ve read or movies/TV shows you’ve watched while in quarantine that you would recommend? 

I’ve recently finished watching “The Mandalorian,” which is basically a Star Wars western! I enjoyed it.  Do people still know what a “western” is?

In tough times, I often look toward those who have experienced even tougher times.  For those who haven’t watched them, I would recommend “Band of Brothers,” Ken Burns’ “The Civil War,” and “Saving Private Ryan.”  Watching these films and series reminds me that, although we are in a tough time, we have been through much worse.

I’ve also been re-reading The Hidden Life of Trees.  If you’re curious about how trees in forests communicate about threats, you’d like it!  If not, well, what’s wrong with you?

  1. Is there anything new you’ve learned about yourself while in quarantine? Anything you’ve learned about your beloved dog Rosie?

I think I’ve confirmed the inevitability that Rosie and I are meant to be together!  And also my sense of self-reliance.

Rosie and I are missing our friends and family, but we’ve also established a rhythm to our days that is comforting and solid.  And we make sure to have treats!

  1. What habit have you started (or broken) during quarantine?

I don’t know that it’s an entirely new habit, but most days Rosie and I are getting in a 4-5 mile walk. She is a fan of the first three miles!  After that, well, her language gets a little salty.

  1. Where are you looking forward to visiting the most once this is all over?

Seeing friends and family, giving bear hugs all around, and sharing a meal around a table will be amazing.  And I hope to have these events at my house here on the Cape. 

I also look forward to walking through Winsor’s halls, hanging out in the cafeteria or the LOC, and seeing my lovely colleagues and students.  We are all so lucky to be part of Winsor.  I miss it.

On a less noble note, visiting a really good restaurant will be very satisfying. Even though I’m a pretty good cook, it’s always great to eat someone else’s cooking!

  1. If applicable, what is something from these times that you do not want to leave behind?

Great question.  My answer is, the slower pace.  I feel just a little bit more human these days.  I wonder whether this is how life felt one hundred years ago, when we traveled less and had a smaller life-circumference.

I also want to keep in mind always the risks and sacrifices first responders are making for all of us during this time.  And don’t forget people like those who are still working to keep food on the shelves in grocery stores and other essential workers, like mail carriers and the people keeping our networks up and running.  Without them, we’d be in a very different situation, and I appreciate what they do every day to let me keep teaching–and having lunch!

  1. During this time, we’re all missing our Winsor community. What do you miss most about Winsor?

I miss my students and colleagues, of course.  And I miss the rhythm of our days together.  More than the predictable events of the day, I miss having little interactions that were unplanned, moments with people I might not even know really well.  That’s a big part of community–the unintentional moments.  I think we all make the effort to stay in touch with our closest connections, but we may overlook the value and enrichment of moments with lots of other people during the day, or just knowing that we are all gathered on Pilgrim Road every day in pursuit of something we all share.

  1. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Winsor community?

I miss my second home and all of the lovely people who make it an amazing place to be.  I miss the amazing lunches!

To the seniors especially, I would like to share a thought.  When John Milton, the poet of Paradise Lost, found out he was going blind, all of his plans and expectations were dashed.  Milton had worked his entire life to produce a work he felt God had inspired him to create, the epic that would eventually become Paradise Lost; but without his sight, he could see neither the meaning of the work he had done thus far nor the possibility of ever completing this goal he felt God had given to him.  It must have been frightening and frustrating.  In response, he wrote a sonnet called “On His Blindness.” In his radical uncertainty, he ended his sonnet  with this line, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” In the hardest times of my life, this line has helped me keep standing and stay hopeful.  If you don’t know what’s next, sometimes you also contribute by just standing ready and waiting.

There are times when we don’t know what is coming, and we may not know whether our invested labors will result in exactly what we had hoped for; but we can stand by with hope, and we can stand by one another.

It may be some time before we are all together again in the good, old way, and none of us knows for sure when that will be, but in the meantime, we know we are part of a Winsor community that is real, lasting, and very special.

P.S. Rosie feels that having me at home every day to take her on walks and give her treats is a pretty good schedule!