Pandemic can provide opportunities, even if they’re forced

May 07 2020

Pandemic can provide opportunities, even if they’re forced

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
–Annie Dillard

“I’m baking.” “I’m going for walks with my parents.” “I’m working on my art.” “I’m learning guitar.” These were some of the responses we heard from Keystone students in our weekly Upper School class meetings and in conversations with middle schoolers when we asked how they are spending time while in work-at-home mode. Some students have seen this time when they are “stuck” at home as what I would call a “forced opportunity.” None of us chose to live during the worst pandemic in a century. However, in true Cobra fashion, many students are opting to learn a skill they wish they always had or find some other form of self-improvement.

Writer Lawrence Wright (left) and journalist Nicholas Kristof during a virtual book event.

Truth be told, I too am learning some skills. In the past two weeks, several long-time friends and I FaceTimed for the first time, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I never used Microsoft Teams, and when I heard the word “Zoom,” I thought of a public television show from my youth. As embarrassing as it is to say, I had never used any of this technology before. Maybe it felt too much like the Jetsons cartoon, perhaps I was just too inept, or it could be that I had never moved beyond the communication format with which I had grown up, the telephone; however, every night now my wife and talk “face-to-face” with our son in Chicago, and it feels great to see as well as hear him.

Last week, my wife and I “attended” an author reading sponsored by one of our favorite bookstores, Bookpeople in Austin. Longtime New Yorker journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright was interviewed by New York Times columnist and author Nicholas Kristoff on Wright’s eerily prescient new pandemic novel The End of October. Joining others around the country through the wonders of Zoom, we watched a fascinating conversation between these two highly regarded journalists. We often drive to Austin to see authors at Bookpeople; after this particular reading, my wife looked at me and said, “Well, we just saved about two and a half to three hours of driving time, and the book will be delivered to our door next week.” She’s reading it now, while recognizing the perversity of enjoying a thriller about a pandemic at this time.

Many friends have told me in recent weeks how they are connecting with former acquaintances, long-lost friends, and distant family members. Some hold weekly family gatherings via Zoom. Others work out daily with long-time friends in different cities. Colleagues have reconnected with high school and college classmates, and they talk more during this pandemic than they have in decades. Keystone Director of Development and Alumni Relations Adrianna Villafranca and I are “zooming” with alumni around the country, and it has been thoroughly delightful to catch up with them and hear stories about their time at Keystone and what they’ve done since high school. To say it’s an impressive group would be an understatement.

There could be a variety of reasons that people are connecting with others via platforms like Zoom. Perhaps, we are reaching out because we are feeling lonely in our houses; maybe we need to see how acquaintances from long ago are holding up in order to ground us in our present time. Could it be that life feels much more fragile now, so we are taking stock and fixing long-overdue problems while we still have the time?

A recent article in the Times called “Let’s Bury the Hatchet: Some people are using time in isolation to resolve deeply held grudges” discusses ways that people make amends and heal old rifts. “With more than three million cases of Covid-19 worldwide and 200,000 deaths, with huge numbers of people coming face to face with their own mortality or the mortality of someone they know, some individuals are excavating their pasts and reaching out to those they once knew and fell out with. Sometimes, it’s just to say hi, other times they’re hoping for détente, and other times, they want to mend a fence, or at least patch it with duct tape.” For whatever reason, people are utilizing virtual meeting platforms to right wrongs and heal their world. Amidst so much tragedy, individuals desperately wish to create something positive or put their emotional affairs in order.

Of course, to acknowledge the good that can come out of our current situation in no way minimizes the harm that this pandemic is wreaking. It’s ravaging people’s lives and destroying our economy. It will be years until we return to a new normal, and we will experience the aftershocks of Covid-19 for a long time. Nevertheless, if we can learn and grow from this pandemic, it will not be for naught. As I have written before, Stanford economics professor Paul Romer once said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Let’s not waste this one.

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