I always imagined 2020 as being the year my life began. It would be the year I walked across a large stage, received a leather-bound diploma and made my debut in the real-world as a sophisticated adult Star. However, upon reaching the future I once longed to grasp, 2020 quickly shifted from being a year that may have only occupied significant personal importance to a year that is certain to have significant historical importance.
In my lifetime, 2020 stands alone as the only year to hold a nationwide shortage of toilet paper, canned goods, milk, eggs, hand sanitizer, Clorox products and protective face masks.
In my lifetime, 2020 stands alone as the only year to witness the desertion of countless restaurants and small businesses for fear of a silent killer lurking in the shadows of the nearest spoken word.
In my lifetime, 2020 stands alone as the only year to present as profound a threat to our grandparents, our healthcare providers, our foodservice workers, our friends and family members with weakened immune systems and our first responders—all people who have silently and often thanklessly served us and stood beside us.
In my lifetime, no year has been less all about me.
Though I was saddened to hear my final year on the Second Baptist School campus would be shortened for the safety of those who bravely stand on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, the transition to a Distance Learning Plan amidst federal stay-at-home guidelines seemed the only reasonable measure. While it was not a popular opinion amongst teenagers, quite honestly, I missed the intellectual stimulation of learning. I missed waking up every day with a clear daily objective beyond cutting down on my tortilla chip intake.
The day of our first Zoom meetings arrived, and I had an optimistic outlook on the trajectory of my virtual learning experience. Seeing my teachers made me feel strangely remorseful, especially considering only a month earlier I was quickly transforming into a caricature of the stereotypical “second semester senior,” clawing at the nearest exit toward graduation. Speaking to my classmates in a virtual classroom was a similarly sorrowful experience, as if all the people I remembered seeing every day were now figures of my imagination that had resurfaced through a webcam as two-dimensional images of formerly multidimensional beings. Who could have foreseen that a virtual reading of Othello would reinvigorate the sense of normalcy that surrounded the life I once lived on the campus of Second Baptist School?
Somehow, through the inordinately histrionic performances of my peers, I was transported to a time when things were simpler. I recognized the spirit of their voices as the unified expression of their desire to make the best of our new situation. It was a collective cry against a resignation to despair. In that moment I realized that, though it was not conventionally normal, it was a new normal that could work for me. Within the enclosure of the new normal, I experienced new freedoms. Casting aside the silent acceptance of uneasiness, teachers and students came together to verbalize and address the concerns we all shared regarding the impact that the coronavirus will provoke on our present and our future. The comfort I experienced through our collective feelings of disorientation and confusion reached far beyond the screen. I was not alone in my distress; I was free to worry and free to encourage.
It is often said that old habits die hard. Within only a few days of starting the Distance Learning Plan, I quickly fell back into the routine of being a student. I soon recognized the opportunity to accomplish meaningful goals every day to be a luxury I refused to take for granted. Surrounded by a community that championed the spirit of power, love and sound mind, while acknowledging that we live in times conducive to the spirit of fear, I felt supported in the face of a global context opportune for discouragement.
Although the circumstances we now find ourselves in are nowhere near where we may have imagined, there is a beauty often found in the unexpected. Though accompanied by unimaginable hardship and chaos, the oneness enjoyed by those in a battle against a common enemy rises above the boundaries that once separated us. In doing our part to mitigate the effects of the novel coronavirus, we prioritize the well-being of those who work tirelessly to treat the virus, cure the virus, and those who could or are currently suffering from the virus above our own comforts, most of which—in the light of our current perspective—can now be rightfully considered inessential.
From the virtual classroom and the circumstances that have necessitated it, I have learned that only in the midst of situations far larger than one’s own ability to comprehend does one gain true insight into the very entity that connects all of humanity in the first place: compassion.