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Ekphrastic Photograph: On the Plane

Powell Clark ’22
Student Athlete

I am my own photographer. Only half of my face is visible, the rest of the photograph reveals rows upon rows of empty airplane seats. There was no mask on my face, but a tired expression hid behind my old scratched lenses. After all, it was the beginning of a pandemic and nobody knew what the hell was going on. According to my phone, it was 6:43 a.m. on March 19, 2020.

I remember the night before I promised all my friends that I would see them in a month, imagining the quarantine period as an extended sort of spring break. We were looking forward to a short break from rowing, which had consumed our lives over the past 20 weeks, and could definitely use some time to rest our bodies.

I dragged myself out of my apartment near campus that morning having packed only one bag. Slightly hungover and half asleep, I snapped a quick selfie to send to my family to show them that I had boarded the empty plane bound for Seattle. 

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A transient feeling began to froth about within my ribs since I was headed home three months too early. My plans for spring break and uncertainty about what was waiting for me at home danced behind my closed eyes over that 90 minute flight.  I didn’t know then that the feeling would remain for the rest of the year. 

This photo caught my eye in my camera roll since it perfectly marked the beginning of a phase in my life that is distinct and ongoing. Everything before that photo was routine, collegiate, and “me.” I had plans, dreams, and expectations about what tomorrow would hold. I felt like a river navigator oaring my boat through the stream of life, if you’ll excuse that cliche. Everything since that photo has been reactive, uncertain; I lost my boat and my paddles. I feel like a Pooh stick, subject to the whims of the river with rapids both ahead and behind me. 

“Fuck it, the world is ending” was the mentality that brought me down. A hopelessness that seeped into all corners of my life froze me. Weeks passed, months passed, and the world still was not over. With a reluctant sigh I gave up the simplicity of sinking and decided to poke my head above the fog that I accumulated around myself.

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This photo is from April 30th, 2021. A little over a year passed since that first photograph, I was back on campus, rowing again, but still stuck in a departure gate. Athletics polo and khakis were the travel attire, plus two masks and a face shield to protect optics while away from campus. When athletics had resumed two months prior, it was the first time I had a schedule and something to work towards in what felt like a lifetime. The stream that I was initially lost in is no longer as daunting. I narrowed my river, though I am still without a paddle, I know I can get to shore and catch my breath when things get rocky.

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