Some days lately it’s hard to know what to write. Some days it’s difficult to know exactly what to think. This new normalcy in an era unlike any other in which we have ever lived is disconcerting. Some days the solitude is restful; other days it feels what it must feel like for a child to be put in time-out – except it’s extended, without any foreseeable end.
I spent some time this week setting up a log of contacts for my students, as learning plans were finalized Tuesday for the period from April 6 to May 1 for McNairy County schools. On Thursday, I spent all day attempting to get in touch with students. We are required to make weekly phone contact with each student regarding progress on their work. Because we serve such a rural area, several of our students do not even have the availability of reliable Internet access.
Even with my initial foray into distance learning, I realized how much I missed my students and being in my classroom, which is much easier than trying to reach out to everyone weekly from a distance. After I finished setting up my webpage with instructions and sending messages using the Remind app, one of my students reached out, saying, “Thank you for the help and understanding of what we’re going through. I appreciate it so much.” I told her it was my job – and I do miss all of my seniors.
The experience feels a bit like a scene from the movie Forrest Gump. Sitting on the bench, talking to someone beside him, he might say, “And just like that, teachers and students wanted to be back in school.” One thing that is for certain: if you’re currently a teacher and ever apply for a new job or project opportunity, future applications should never have to ask, “Do you have any experience with distance learning?”
We should, however, recognize some familiarity in the feeling many of us are feeling. As Harvard Business Review writer Scott Berinato points out, by interviewing grief expert David Kessler and author of the book On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss, what we are actually experiencing is simply a form of grief.
In the article “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” Kessler tells interviewer Berinato that “we feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”
I have noticed on social media the spate of meditative, calming posts – which help with the weightiness of grief. It seems as if people are often trying to find ways to be more positive in the midst of the realization of the severity of such a pandemic. I know I have felt the weight and sought the positive.
For instance, over a week ago, I commented on one friend’s Facebook post after he said on March 24 that “I think that restrictions could be safely modified enough to allow people to go back to work in about a week.” I responded that I was afraid – until the virus is absolutely contained – that returning to a school of around 60 faculty/staff members and approximately 800 students will put so many people at risk. Our classrooms are currently crowded and in very close quarters, and during the winter, illness is rampant. Furthermore, when it comes to COVID-19, a number of students could end up being asymptomatic carriers.
My friend agreed, saying in these times that he “would not go anywhere near someone who had spent the day with 800 kids.” One of his friends lambasted me, though, saying I’d been “duped into believing this is more dangerous than it is.” She continued: “That said, perhaps you should never come out of your house again. You could catch the flu, pneumonia, or get in a car accident. Covid-19 has a 97 percent cure rate. I think you are one of those who is enjoying the drama of being quarantined. One of the ‘Isn’t it scary-fun to all suffer together’ crowd ... or maybe you’re just another millennial that needs an excuse not to go to work.”
Initially, I was offended. Then I realized: she called me, a Generation Zer, a millennial. So she thinks I’m younger than my actual age! See? It is all about finding the positive in a dark situation.
I am enjoying the meditative rest, which has included porch-sitting and reading and listening to music, and I will remain busy with my students’ distance learning and getting organized in my house. However, one aspect of the pandemic getting to me is that an indefinite period remains before I may again travel, one of my favorite activities in life.
I received notification this week that my Hong Kong summer gig for Johns Hopkins University – my third year in a row – has been canceled – with good reason. I was hoping to spend a week in Germany and Poland, possibly visiting Auschwitz. I so enjoyed Madrid and Barcelona last year.
Anyway, like others, I’m also trying to interject humor into this tragedy where available. It’s a long-standing Southern tradition to mitigate tragedy with humor – and food, of course.
Therefore, I’m contemplating what sort of outfit I should acquire for plane travel when I can scratch this pervasive itch and board an aircraft once again. I found online a photo of a guy in a suit, sitting beside a plane window, fully covered up top by a unicorn head – which might, perhaps, be a safe bet for avoiding germs. If nothing else, it would be, as one of my friends pointed out, an excellent way to ensure that the seat beside me remains open.