This is the semester where no one knew what to expect. No one knew what was going to happen. All we had were numerous scenarios. Our planning started with the worst-case — a massive outbreak of COVID-19 on campus. The planning was set up to avoid that worst-case scenario and, in many ways, the plan worked.There was not a massive outbreak and the few coronavirus cases were handled quickly and almost seamlessly.
However, it was hard to plan for the human toll that we would have to deal with — the lack of exercise, new bad eating habits, or binge-watching beyond what was necessary or what your respective online subscriptions may allow for. The isolation was something else that was hard to plan for. Who knew how not speaking to your regular people might affect our lives, and our souls? A new set of regular people might have emerged for some of us, in small numbers, but not like the people we knew, who are still there, but lurking in their own sheltered universe.
And mask-wearing — it’s like taking on a new identity. The first mask I was given was a beautiful green print that fit perfectly. Early in the summer, as things were opening up, I ran into New York City briefly to return library books. People kept looking at my mask — I realized in New York, when mask-wearing was just catching on, most people were wearing disposable medical masks. The homemade mask was an anomaly, even in the fashion capital of the world. Who knew that masks were not just a tool to save your life, but a potential fashion statement? By the time the fall semester rolled around, people began purchasing masks that matched their outfits. Sports team logos began to appear on masks. Who could plan for something like this? Or, why did we not see this coming?
Despite the months of being so good in terms of the coronavirus, especially in the Berkshires, the numbers are going up again. Classes are remote, and people seem less anxious. For now we have some idea of what’s coming. We even have some idea of the pandemic-related questions we need to be asking — especially in relation to community, isolation, wellness and self-care. Life in the pandemic has become less of a mystery, however, these times are still somewhat disconcerting. However, right around the corner seems to be the latest wave of illnesses. This wave is much closer for some than others. Doctors say this is the stage when most people will know someone with COVID-19. This is the reason why we may end up sheltering-in even more than during the spring.
So, we now know how to do work online and maintain a connection with close friends and family, but do we know how to answer the other questions: about how to plan for your future? And how to keep from being isolated? There are still many challenges — in addition to trying to make sure not to catch the coronavirus.
My hope for all of you, as you finish the semester, is that you will take time to review what your life has been for the past year. This is such an unusual time; it really warrants reflection. Also, do not give into The Isolation. Reach out to people, form Zoom groups and gatherings. Yes, we are sick of Zoom, but if we are not careful, we will become sick of our own company. It is good to do self-care, exercise as much as possible, but also do community care. Ask yourself, what does your family, friend group, club, or activity need to maintain some kind of cohesion, some kind of reminder of your sense of purpose and belonging?
I think the best advice for these times comes from the adage repeated by those who subscribe to the practices and methods used by substance abuse recovery support groups: Take one day at a time. So often, our lives go off the rails because we are trying to get something in the future that cannot be attained in a day. Taking one day at a time reminds us that we have enough for today, and focusing on what we can deal with within the present keeps us grounded and focused. This is a good place to start when we are dealing with a pandemic, when we still don’t know what’s going to happen. We can still take care of those around us and be concerned for our communities and see what challenges today brings. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Be well and be good to each other. Congratulations on finishing the fall 2020 semester. See you next year! Happy Holidays!
Valerie Bailey Fischer is Chaplain to the College and Protestant Chaplain.