Creating beauty in a stressful situation
“One day when this is over, we will tear our masks off with gusto and make a joyful noise.”
If the first few days of the new school year don’t feel much different than the past five months, you’re not alone. Yes, we’ve started the new year, but in some ways, it feels like a continuation of the surreal experience we began last March after spring break when we entered distance learning mode. In yet another Zoom meeting last week with other heads of school, a colleague wryly said, “well, it’s March, Day 150.” Our current state of suspended animation without the normal rhythms of school and being with friends in person has consumed an even larger percentage of our students’ lives than it has for us adults. Six months of physical distancing and mask-wearing is a long time for anyone; it stretches even longer in the life of a three or a ten year old.
And it’s not just school. It was wonderful seeing you during our Distribution Days over the past week, and many of you described how your vacation plans were disrupted, students missed out on camps or internships, and it just didn’t really feel like summer. On the other hand, you said that your children were ready for the routine of school, even if it was online. My father once told me that “the routine of no routine can feel like a rut.” These first few days of a new school year are indeed exciting, yet tempered by the fact that we’re not physically on campus.
So, as school begins, where do we go from here mentally? What lessons can we learn that will enable us to have a positive mindset?
For a way to think about the answer, let me recommend a story from National Public Radio. Please take two minutes to listen to this piece, which evokes the sadness when the choir of the Freeville United Methodist Church in Freeville, New York could not sing for fear of spreading germs.
Once church services recommenced, parishioners observed the requisite six feet physical distance and wore masks. The bibles, hymnals, and church bulletins were absent, and there was no choir. However, one Sunday, masked congregants began to hum the hymn “He Touched Me.”
It wasn’t the same as singing, but it was something, and it was more than silence. Their humming acknowledged their sadness while they set forth to create music in defiance of our current situation. It’s almost as if people were proclaiming that in the face of the worst pandemic in over one hundred years, we will mourn those we have lost and we will still find a way to make music.
As radio show host, writer, and choir member Amy Dickinson said, “One day when this is over, we will tear our masks off with gusto and make a joyful noise.” However, she also affirms, “But I will never forget this..Perhaps we will develop a whisper song or two to mark the time when our voices were stilled..”
So, what lessons does this story hold for us as school begins? We can recognize that we miss being on campus; this is a legitimate feeling, and we should acknowledge it. Nevertheless, whether we’re in distance mode or in person, we can create beauty when we work together and support each other. We may not be able to control COVID-19, but we can determine our response to it. We can tell our children that as with other difficult experiences in their lives, we don’t have to allow hard times to define us. In addition, we need to reassure our students that one day, this will end and we will regain some form of normalcy while not forgetting what we lost along the way.