My grandmother once said to me,
Cuando ya no estoy, quiero que sigas siendo fuerte. Firme. Firme como la palma. Puede soplar el viento y batirte pero no te puede tumbar.
When I’m not here [anymore], I want you to keep being strong. Firm. Firm like the palm tree. The wind can blow and batter you but it cannot knock you down.
Right now we are in quite the storm and the wind is blowing hard. I want to share with you the good and the bad in my life during this pandemic.
I’m Okay. First and foremost, I have to recognize where I’m lucky, I’m thankful to be alive and to be healthy. I have food and shelter and a wonderful roommate who is keeping me company. I have a bed and a stuffed animal and the substance more valuable than gold: toilet paper.
I’m Keeping Busy. There is a lot to do now. I have been working with another esteemed colleague of mine to help lead and train a lot of our staff to switch over to distance learning. The work does not stop, there is always something to troubleshoot, a student in need, an email to respond to. I’m certainly not dying of boredom. And, when I feel like I need a break, I practice Mandarin or play video games.
I’m Not Alone. My roommate is definitely my best friend and has helped to ground me during this moment. I have all my wonderful family, who have been checking in on me virtually. I have friends who committed to doing a Google Meet call with me, despite having no idea how to use it. And my coworkers are still people I get to hear and interact with, albeit on a less frequent (less fist-bump and cackle together) basis. I miss them.
The Uncertainty. There is so much we do not know. If you are anything like me—teachers, especially—you are going bonkers because people want you to have answers and people are frustrated you don’t have answers they need. You’re probably even upset with yourself that you don’t have the answers. It starts to feel pointless and strange that something invisible to the naked eye is taking lives and wrecking our whole world’s normal routines and livelihoods. And we don’t know if this will be over by May, by June or even next fall. We just don’t know. All we can do is focus on what’s in front of us.
Life goes on and we have to fight for our livelihood, whatever that means to you. We learn to make some normal when we run out of it. And we’re not going to stop keeping our students and families safe.
The Absence of People. I miss people. I never thought I would say that. My coworker put it best, “It feels so good just to hear noise.” I even found myself telling my friend that I have been deprived of the pleasure of being annoyed by sounds. I have never missed my students talking in my classroom more than I do at this moment. I have never missed hearing the hustle and bustle of the supermarket more than I do at this moment. I have never missed being able to hug another human being, without fear that maybe I or they may have some microscopic menace inside ready to pounce.
I feel very much like I’m living in some sort of sci-fi post-apocalyptic world simply because my social interactions have been whittled down. I always heard people jokingly use the term “touch-starved” whenever they feel like they haven’t seen someone in a very long time. That comes close to how I feel. I never realized until this moment how much I rely on touch, whether that be giving hugs, doing high-fives, accidentally bumping into people in the hallway, awkwardly—all of the silly little things.
Human interaction is something I have taken for granted, which is why it is so important that we continue to reach out and stay connected. You may hear people gloat that no one is using technology in their house to communicate, that’s cool—for them. We need to be using our technology to check-in via Zoom or Skype or Instagram or whatever medium that you use so we don’t forget what our friends and our loved ones sound like, because that is what will keep us grounded.
My advice to everyone, including myself, is to take care of yourself. Walk outside (in your front yard, on the patio, in your stairwell). Have an extra brownie, but recognize when all you’ve been doing is eating brownies for three days with no real plans of stopping. No judgment, I’ve been there but my vice was Oreos. You have to ask for help and if someone close to you isn’t able to give you help, then reach out to someone who can connect you with help. And, finally, recognize that there is a grace in knowing your limits.