Observations & Lessons in Isolation – Week 4

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Hi Everyone,

I don’t know about you, but we have somewhat settled into the ebbs and flows and weirdness of staying (and working) at home. The weirdness will never disappear; we are social creatures who need to be around one another, but I am realizing there is a ‘new normal’ that exists for the time being. I have also been making a lot of observations and learning a lot of lessons in the discomfort of this time. I keep remembering that we are ‘healthy at home’ as opposed to ‘staying at home;’ it changes perspective completely and makes me think about those who do not have this luxury.

Here are some observations of my first month (or so) at home.

We are Living History: I have found a great deal of comfort in educating myself in these first few weeks. I have to admit, sometimes I go down into a dark hole and have to dig myself out for my mental health’s sake. But, I have found comfort in this education for the most part, and especially in reaching back into history to learn about how others coped with epidemics in the past; this situation is not new to us humans, though the combination of our modern lives with an epidemic is. Nonetheless, we can learn from the lessons of the past, even if those lessons are not the ones we want to hear.

The head of my school recently introduced me to a NY Times Op-Ed piece by David Brooks that traces the lack of public consciousness following the Spanish Flu of 1918, which is puzzling, as it killed many more Americans than World War I did. Brooks argues that perhaps this was because people didn’t treat each other so well during these times when they felt “trapped, waiting for events outside their control, unable to act, unable to decide.” And let’s not kid ourselves, this is where we are at currently; we really have little control. This thinking hits at the personal level; what people did or did not do in these challenging times. I’ll leave Brooks rather grim examples below for you to peruse.

This is the learning of history that is most poignant for me; at this level of the personal. Hearing people’s stories; Anne Frank in hiding, displaying human resilience and kindness in the face of impending gloom, men marching off to war, and the story of the life they left behind and the realities of the trenches; people’s personal connections to those in the World Trade Center, and I could go on and on. So, if we are living history, what will your story be? Will it be one of kindness, resilience, humility? I hope so, and I hope so for myself, too. I hope you document this time and share it with your loved ones in the future; it might be their survival guide one day. I have been giving my students the same advice, if only for it to be their ‘I walked through 10-foot snowbanks to get to school’ story when their kids say they are bored someday.

If you are a teacher, your students REALLY want to see you: I know many of you public school teachers are feeling anxious about a return to work and what that is going to look like. I just completed my first week back at it and after that first class, I was chatting with a colleague who hadn’t yet taught and was feeling nervous, as we all were. I told her, “you will be so overcome with emotion and joy to see them healthy and smiling, all your nerves will just go away,” and I think that was true for all of us at Lakefield College this week. On the other side of this is, of course, our students; all 16 of mine were sitting in the queue of our zoom meeting 5 minutes before the class started; better punctuality then in person! We had a laugh about that. My point is, they really wanted to be there, and to see each other and their teacher and talk about their futures because it’s comforting and connecting. It was so nice. Good luck to you all next week, your kids want to see you and hear from you and let this carry you through your nerves and confusion as you navigate these tricky educational waters we are in!

Gratitude: I will admit it; I am not a person who is full of gratitude. It is not one of my top strengths; not even close. I spend my time focused on accomplishing (maybe too much so), loving my people and perhaps not living in the moment enough. But during this time, gratitude has taken a center stage for me. Perhaps it’s the change in pace and my lack of control in how I move around the world currently, but I am feeling so grateful these days. I went out for a run this morning and was grateful for the spring air, that I could take my family outside in the yard, that we have food security and a roof over our heads. To pre-Covid me, I would think I sounded super corny and would have given myself a big ‘ol eye roll, but nope, not now. Things I definitely take for granted in my day to day life have come into clear focus these days. I hope that continues when this is all over, it has changed my life and perspective, in such a short time.

Finally….

We Don’t Need Stuff: I am one of those people who NEEDS my morning coffee from the bakery. But the things that we thought we needed aren’t as readily available to us anymore, and it’s changed the way we think a bit, as least it has amongst my group of friends. A recent talk with some mom friends about where to buy our kid’s pants online turned into one about sewing a nice patch onto blown-out knees. I have been enjoying a coffee at home in the morning and second-guessing online orders because I just don’t feel I need it. I have shifted my attention from consumption to simplicity; I feel like a little old lady puttering around in my garden, but I love it. My kids have stopped asking to go buy a toy after a couple of weeks of tough conversations and have taken to collecting snails and worms outside and biking around. I hope relishing in this simplicity stays with me (and us) after this is over.

Thanks for listening to my musing about this month in physical isolation, I would be interested your hear what you are learning in these wild times!

L.

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