Isle of Harris, Scotland Credit: _ultraforma_/E+ via Getty Images

(Editor’s note: This essay is part of Bethesda Beat’s Coronavirus Chronicles personal essay series. Visit the submission page to learn more.)

“You stepped in a sheep!”

From across our dinner table, my daughter’s exasperated, patronizing teen tone summed up the bittersweet relationship she now has with my college tale. Thank you, coronavirus.

The sheep in question died on an island in Scotland, where I did my junior year abroad in 1987. My friends and I ignored our Let’s Go guide warnings to avoid Sunday hitchhiking because rural Harris’s Calvinist churches preach total Sabbath rest. No driving, no shopping — only prayer.

But we disbelievers set off on foot for a hostel up the coast anyway that blustery day. After hours along a circuitous, car-free road, we took a shortcut through a field filled with heather. Landing on the far side of a hillock, something crunched under my boot. Brittle spikes caught my ankles.

Sheep ribs.


Ragged fleece clung to its skeleton like treed plastic bags by the Potomac River after high water. After I disentangled myself, we toasted the sheep with our water bottles and retreated to the road. Soon we were picked up by the only car we’d seen all day: an Irish tourist.

“Hitchhiking today of all days! You’re lucky I’m Catholic!”

Like so many of my pre-child exploits, this story of freer times used to be eaten greedily by my daughter, my youth feral compared to hers filled with anxiety over college, debt, climate change and now, the pandemic.


In the 1980s, I had breathing room. Room to explore the world, to figure out what part I wanted to play in it. I do hope this disease, despite its horrors, may reset all of our expectations, opening up space for our children to seek their own stories.

So she can step in her own sheep one day.

Ayesha Court is a writing tutor who lives in Cabin John.


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