It has been almost a year since our lives shifted in various ways, more for some than for others. It was one year ago this past weekend that I had just finished moving from an apartment in downtown Corinth to an over-100-year-old house I had purchased nearby and was then about to board a plane to travel to Austin, Texas, to visit my boyfriend’s daughter for the weekend. I had no idea at the time that thereafter life would not be quite the same.

When we returned from Austin, more news of COVID-19 hitting closer to home increased, although the virus wouldn’t fully arrive in our communities in the Midsouth until the heat of summer. Following my trip, I suffered from some minor malady, including a sore throat and headache that persisted for a over a week.

Despite my symptoms, I returned to school to my classroom, which should have been against my better judgment – although I didn’t fully know it at the time. School was held for only another week before the announcement was made that we were transitioning to remote learning, a status that would ultimately remain in place for the remainder of the semester, and our graduation ceremony for seniors was delayed into June.

During the summer, I was supposed to have spent two months in Nashville working for the Tennessee Department of Education on a competitively-selected summer leadership fellowship for teachers, collaborating on an English Language Arts project to help teachers across the state, but I ended up completing all of the work from home, save the trip I had to make at the outset to Nashville to procure an organizational laptop.

I knew that when school resumed in the fall, it would have to look different in light of a full-fledged pandemic. We did return to in-person learning in August but on a modified schedule with certain grades coming to the classroom on certain days and those grades working from home on other days.

Eventually, our instruction returned to a more regular schedule, save Fridays that were to be devoted to teachers only coming to school in order to make contact with and assist students whose guardians opted to have them work remotely the other four days of the week, known as the ReConnect program. This model has continued into the spring. For instance, I currently have 15 seniors enrolled in my first block class. Eight of them work on assignments remotely, and seven are supposed to be attending classes regularly in-person – although those numbers are fluid and can change at any time by notifying the administration. Teaching right now is certainly different than before.

All of that time of in-person teaching last fall, I lived in fear that I would catch the virus at school, especially in a masks-not-required environment. I did get it but not at school. In November, I came down with a moderate case of COVID-19, suffering about ten days of fever, and my boyfriend, from whom I caught the virus, had COVID pneumonia. Neither of us had to go to the hospital, except one night when he almost disoriented, and I took him to the emergency room to be checked out. With that visit came the pneumonia diagnosis for him. Fortunately, neither of us had to be submitted, nor the worst of horrors, put on a ventilator, and we both survived, thankfully.

Despite all of the upheaval this past year, which caused me to miss out on an activity that I love, traveling, I still managed to go a few places. After the trip in March to Austin, we ended up road-tripping to Mobile for Labor Day, socially distancing and trying to be being cautious about places we visited.

In November, after we had both recovered from the virus, we flew to scenic Colorado for a family trip. An unusual aspect of the visit there was that everyone wore masks everywhere, even while walking along the streets. There was no time, though, to ponder the discomfort or inconvenience of constant mask-wearing. Each day when we woke, the mountains were a picturesque fixture of our views, and on the day we left, I got to see and experience one of my favorite elements: several inches of snow.

So this past year has been different from so many that I can recall in four decades. One of the worst “lows” is that, sadly, so many people that I know have died, several from the virus and a few for other reasons. In October, one of my colleagues and friends lost her husband, only 54-years-old and a former kidney transplant recipient, to COVID-19. In more recent days, I lost one of my high school friends, only 45, presumably to the cruel disease of Type 1 diabetes. I am stunned and saddened.

I hope that 2021 does not present as many lows, hopefully, more highs. I suppose, as always, we shall see, as I continue teaching in this new pattern while remodeling that house I bought and working on another graduate degree – remotely this time, as expected. The entire experience has certainly prompted me to appreciate the small joys of life more and not take so much for granted.

Perhaps it has reminded me of a sentiment penned by poet John Donne and later recycled famously by Ernest Hemingway as the title of a novel: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” If only we could ask them more about that idea, but we cannot. So much more the reason not to take anything for granted.

Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and as an adjunct instructor at UT-Martin. She is pursuing an Ed.S. degree in Educational Leadership through Lipscomb University in Nashville. She enjoys downtown Corinth.

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