On Monday, I reached out to the students who’ve been MIA from my classes, making it clear that I was interested in their well being, more than their productivity. They all responded, and it has been heartbreaking and downright depressing to learn about some of their situations. They’ve lost parents and other family members; some are themselves sick; many have lost their jobs and others are working in essential jobs, from nurse’s assistants to grocery store workers; others had their National Guard regiments called up to help; still others are caring for sick family members or children, while others lost chargers or had problems because they’re using older equipment. And some are just depressed and frightened and unable to function. Every single one of them broke my heart by apologizing and expressing guilt or shame, as though these inexperienced young people who are watching the world implode and experiencing upheavals beyond the experience of even their elders, think that they should be able to immediately adapt and function at the highest, already unrealistic and damaging levels that preceded the pandemic.
The thanks I’ve received brought me to tears because you know what? I have’t done anything that exceptional: I’ve given them reassurance, let them know that that I’ll work with them to get through the semester, and let them know that the college has a few resources to help with equipment and told them how to access help or connected them to people who can help. Yeah, I offered a charger and tried to make sure that everyone had food. I did what I think are pretty basic things that don’t even require me to leave my home. I did what one professor did for me many years ago when I had pneumonia and missed two classes: he called, reminded me to stay hydrated, and asked if I was eating. At that time it was one of the most touchingly kind acts I’d experienced from an authority figure. Only the day before, my classics professor had called, gently chiding me for missing classes and falling behind.
I’m sorry to go on, but I’m sitting here, choked up for the third day in a row. It’s painful to know so many people who are suffering and it’s heartbreaking to think how apathetic or even unkind people must be that such relatively small gestures mean so much to people.
And yes, I understand that it’s about timing: being seen/missed while isolated probably means more than at other times, but honest to Goddess, people, you don’t have to break protocol or overstep boundaries: just check in and ask if they’re ok and if you can help (presuming that you’re willing to do so.) Getting them connected for their individual needs was a bit time consuming, but not actually difficult.
An academic group I’m in had a whole debate about whether or not to use some class time to address these issues. I admit to being surprised that everyone hadn’t already done this and that many thought it was inappropriate. Even if my discipline was outside of the social sciences, I can’t imagine not taking some time to ask how they are and if they want to talk about how they’re dealing with everything and letting them know that they can email if they want to confer. This is another of the many times that I’m struck by how different my culture is from the dominant one and how society creates and rewards isolationist forms of individualism where self promoting “teams” are formed rather than communities of sharing.
And this isn’t humblebragging- this is me saying that as insular, selfish, and shallow as I can be, it took almost nothing to make someone’s day a tiny bit better. I’m saying that you don’t have to be on the front lines or take risks: a simple note, maybe a few hours of time, can make a difference for someone who’s genuinely stuck right now.
Ok, I really didn’t intend to rant. (The title was changed at the end) Like most others, I’m processing everything even as I’m trying to place one foot in front of the other and function, and writing is one way that I process. And there is a lot to process. But part of what we’re being asked to process is who we are and what kind of society we want to be. I’d like a kinder, more equal one with science and civics education, support for the Arts, and national healthcare. 🤷🏽♀️
I’ve nothing else to say except to say stay home, take deep breaths, be kind, keep well, and stay safe.