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Today’s letter is for high school seniors, for my son and his classmates, for my friends’ children, for Andrew and for Allie and for Brian, and for my friends with college seniors, Jane and Emma.
I want to tell you a bit about these young people and share a poem.
We live in unprecedented times. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic is changing the way we function day to day. Google had a three-word public service alert on its search page: DO THE FIVE.
HANDS Wash them often
ELBOW Cough into it
FACE Don’t touch it
SPACE Keep safe distance
HOME Stay if you can
Buzz words of the times include social-distancing, shelter-in-place, and flattening the cure. And Google has done its part.
I have a senior and sophomore and their high school in Stamford Connecticut closed on 12 March, two days before spring break. This weekend, Governor Lamont announced a “Stay Safe, Stay Home” policy effective this evening, Monday 23 March. All non-essential workers are directed to work from home.
Schools are closed. Restaurants, theatres, gyms, closed. I walked through town this weekend, streets empty of traffic, empty of parked cars.
I am sorry for my son, for his friends, for seniors everywhere. You’ve worked and studied all your lives to get to this point, to reach the top of the heap, head of the school, leaders in your clubs, captains on your team.
My son missed the family trip. He misses his friends, his classes, and especially his spring teams, track and ultimate Frisbee. Andrew, his close bud, is also bummed about missing friends and frisbee.
Allie misses school, my friend told me, her spring break trip, her last day, senior skip day back when it was just a day, not a week or a month or the rest of her senior year. She worries about prom and senior week, graduation. Most of all she misses the people, her friends and even kids she didn’t really know or interact with. All of them. The teachers, the classes. When she left after her last exam before school was cancelled, she just hoped that was not the last time she was walking off campus. It seemed far-fetched, but now it looks more and more like it’s a real possibility.
WHAT ARE SENIORS DOING?
Allie’s friend said she almost wants to repeat senior year so she can get it all in. The two are BFFs (Best Friends Forever) and are staying together during this shelter-in-place period.
My son left the dinner table to join an online birthday for his friend. He played Spike Ball at the park, four teens slapping a ball into a net. They had an audience, at the appropriate social distance. His sweats were marked with stains in the knees and legs.
Emma’s a college senior, a first class cadet at West Point. She misses it all: friends, instructors, being challenged. She and her friends are constantly on FaceTime. Working online, there is no physical training, no military demands. There is no replacement for the camaraderie of barracks life, only weeks before her commissioning as a second lieutenant, an officer in the U.S. Army.
Jane is also a college senior. I see her in a Live Photo, a mini-movement, sitting with two friends on the lawn in front of MIT Building 10 and the Great Dome, leaning on one hand and tilting back a drink with the other, then a frown on her face. This is how she feels about senior year being over. It’s not over over, but over as she knows it: the hallways, the classrooms, the dorms, the parties, the late-night chats, the time to just be with each other, contemplating it all, the great big next step, the future, just beyond.
My son announced at dinner one day that his six Advanced Placement (AP) exams were each cut from three hours to forty-five minutes, a hint of a smile on his face. A silver lining?
POETRY, COMFORT IN DIFFICULT TIMES
My friend Paula sent me a prose poem by Kitty O’ Meara which has gone viral. It is untitled and it may be of comfort to students and parents and anyone right now.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
by Kitty O’Meara
It is lovely and sad, a pandemic poem.
This morning after a temperate sunny weekend, snow flurries came down onto the lawn, a dusting of snow across the bulbs which have sprouted, daffodils on the verge, the yellow tips just budding.
To all the seniors in school, to my son, you will never get back this time and for that I am truly sorry. My wish for you is resilience and hope, healing and growth.
Oh, and don’t forget: DO THE FIVE.