Jessica Doonan

Starting a new job in a pandemic is not easy. When I began working at the MFA in February 2021, almost all of my interactions with colleagues took place over Zoom. When staff finally started coming back into the office last summer, I had to try and match people I had only ever seen on a computer screen to the masked ones now walking around before my eyes. It was like a version of the game Guess Who? I never thought I’d have to play.

On the positive side, I was working at a museum for the first time. And not just any museum—I had grown up visiting the MFA and spent the last ten years volunteering here. Now I get to spend Monday through Friday amidst stunning sculptures and paintings from every time period and all around the world. I have the honor of ensuring that visitors with disabilities can experience our incredible collection both in person and virtually. What a dream—the pandemic hasn’t made things easy, but it's been well worth it.

Lately I’ve been wandering through the Museum, visiting favorite works of art and discovering ones I haven’t seen before. While exploring “Monet, Rodin, and Boston” one day, I found myself enthralled by the deep blue walls and pulled into the beautiful river scenes Claude Monet painted in his Morning on the Seine, near Giverny series. One of the gallery’s benches is in the perfect position to see all three paintings, and instead of continuing through the Museum, I sat down. I soaked in the smooth water; I imagined the warmth of the sun and the breeze that I’m so sure was gently blowing through the trees as Monet came back day after day to paint the same image.

Lush trees along a river bank at dawn.
Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, near Giverny, 1896. Oil on canvas. Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection.

I am a person who lives with depression and anxiety. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, an estimated 31.1 percent of United States adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, and in 2019 an estimated 19.4 million adults, 7.8 percent of all adults, in the US had at least one major depressive episode. This means I’m not alone. My symptoms ebb and flow, and over the years I’ve found the tools that help me thrive. One of them is being in nature, so I find ways to get outside almost every day. When I work from home, I explore my neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, admire the flowers, and say hi to all the dogs out on walks like me. When I work in the Museum, I bike to work along the Southwest Corridor and take in how the trees bloom, grow, and change through the months.

Lush green trees along a river bank at dawn.
Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, near Giverny, 1897. Gift of Mrs. Walter Scott Fitz.

But, as many of us know, when you live in New England sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and it’s not always possible (or at least pleasant) to be outside. Sometimes busy work days make escaping into nature a challenge. On those days, when I need a moment to myself, to write a to-do list, think through a problem, or soothe my anxiety, I wander back to “Monet, Rodin, and Boston” and sit on that bench. Immediately, I’m transported to the Seine, near Giverny, where it’s always a beautiful morning filled with blues, purples, and greens.

The pandemic continues to change the world in ways we have never experienced before. Major life changes like beginning a new job are more stressful than ever, and depression and anxiety are amplified. Always, but especially now, we all need to find tools that ground us. Art can be one of those tools, and I encourage each and every one of us to take time to explore the Museum. If you see me wandering the halls or sitting in front of my three favorite Monet paintings, come join me! Let’s find more pieces that transport us.

A person looks at an oil painting of a calm river scene.
Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, near Giverny, 1897. Oil on canvas. Private Collection.

Jessica Doonan is manager of Accessibility, Inclusion and Belonging.