1 month into a ‘new normal’ that isn’t normal

A darkened office with an open door

A month ago today is when the world started rapidly changing.

On March 11, the governor announced that SUNY and CUNY schools would switch to remote learning. Among the subsequent social media storm, I didn’t have time to cancel what would be my last in-person class of the semester.

I arrived in Mahar to find only half my class attending. Those who did were anywhere between dazed and despondent. Some had just seen any sense of normalcy shatter. Seniors sadly said they had worked so hard for years to attend graduation, but were unsure they would. My response to them, and ever since, is resolute: Everybody on this campus wants you to have a graduation. You and your family deserve the celebration. But we don’t yet know when we can do it safely.

My original plan as of that morning was to give a lecture, hand out an assignment and pass back their research papers. None of that seemed viable. But knowing that some of them left that semblance of a class maybe feeling a little bit better, or taking even a modicum of comfort that a teacher cared about their physical and mental well-being means that class was more meaningful than I could ever have planned.

March 11 featured high drama on the national stage as well — in a moment sure to be recreated in some movie, a doctor raced onto the court of an NBA game to stop it because one of the players had tested positive. Suddenly, the league suspended the rest of its season. You-know-what had got real in a hurry.

On Friday the 13th (the only instance I’ll tolerate the written use of an ordinal number for a date), I arrived to pick up Arius to get a text from my mom that she saw on the news that his school had suspended face-to-face classes. (That my mother never seems to know any such thing before I do just added to the surreal nature of it all.) Sure enough, word was he’d be out of school for at least a month.

We spent that weekend maintaining some sense of normalcy, going to the children’s museum and acting like everything was going to be fine. In retrospect, we were young and naive (OK, one of us is not so young).

The week and a half from March 11 felt like a series of daily gut punches. More and more colleges and schools suspended in-person learning. Sports leagues and other institutions came to a halt. Bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses could no longer host customers. Most private businesses were told to work remote or not at all. Things I looked forward to were canceled or postponed.

By Friday, March 20, our whole team was working remote. I left the office at noon that day not sure when I would be working there on a regular basis again. I still don’t know.

Some of us have settled into some kind of routine. I start in my home office between 7:30 and 8 every morning. I still find ways to tell stories. I send and receive mountains of email. I spend time on Zoom or Google Hangout interviewing people for video stories, attending meetings or enjoying virtual hangs with my lunch crew. The commute is short and I get to wear sweatpants. But none of it feels normal.

I don’t know if we’ll be anywhere near normal in another month. Or even two months.

It’s a holy weekend for many people. Easter and Passover gatherings will not feature all the loved ones they normally would. I join them all in praying we find some kind of resolution.

Through it all, this I still know: We’re all in this together. Take care.

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