With eight weeks down and with what seems to be a lifetime to go, we’re more than halfway through our first year of the Covid classroom— better known as Zoom University— and WE ARE NOT OKAY.
Tuesday was one of the most important elections in U.S. history, one that will probably incite upheaval either way the cookie crumbles, and we just finished a stay-in-place –though you should’ve already been doing this–order. All the while, our administration fails to provide adequate anything relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and comically continues to hold the title as one of the top research universities in the country, maybe even the world.
And we FaceTime our grandparents from miles away for their birthdays while we admonish them to only visit the grocery store during senior hours. And we annotate assignments days after our parents have been diagnosed with a deadly virus because we fear the never-ending cycle of falling behind. And we watch our cousins’ funerals via live streams because one death is better than ten.
WE ARE NOT OKAY.
We check in on our friends more often than we ever have because we know they’re not okay either. We text and call and FaceTime and Zoom because it’s all we have. We try to hold space for them when we can’t even hold it for ourselves. We ask about motivation and sleep and happiness and the answer is any variation of: yes, no, maybe. We ask about school and the answer is mostly: no.
My favorite phrase has become: I hope you’re taking care of yourself.
I think it’s presumptuous to believe that we were taking care of ourselves before a global pandemic stopped the world. I think it’s presumptuous to think anyone knows how to take care of themselves during the most amalgamated time of social unrest, disease and death. What does care look like when the world is on fire? When there seems to be no end in sight. And when normalcy is merely a word shrouded in a life lived with privilege.
When I was little, I used to dream of what my life would be like when I’d grow up. I’d dream of traveling to every state and every continent, of living a life characterized by moving and movement. I’d dream of sharing my life with someone who’d make the butterflies in the pit of my stomach flutter with joy every time I saw them. Someone who I could make a life with and cherish until one of us would watch the other take their last breath and bawl our eyes out as we turned over to an empty, cold side of a bed. And while this pandemic has to end some day, I can’t help but feel the untouchable uncertainties parading around all those dreams.
And as much as I want to participate in class, sometimes I can’t. As much as I want to be honest with my professors about the despair I feel for a racist world undergirded by a deadly disease, sometimes I can’t. As much as I want to explain why reading 158 pages over four days is too much during a global pandemic, sometimes I can’t. I feel guilty for having to explain why I can’t keep up, why I didn’t watch the lecture, why I can’t focus during the screening. I feel guilty for not being comfortable with opening up to a complete stranger. I feel guilty for not being able to be human … for not wanting to be a hamster on an academic, capitalistic wheel that has no end in sight.
All the while, I see professors with rings on fingers, and collections of records, and high ceiling houses, and framed pictures via Zoom University. I see the makings of homes and the embodiments of lives well-lived, of trials turned testimonies, of dreams made realities, of time well spent. While I watch, I pick up my water bottle from the ottoman acting as a makeshift nightstand in an failed attempt to quench my thirst; perhaps it’s more metaphorical than literal.
Everyday, I remind myself that graduation is a semester away; that I’ve done well so far and I simply need to hold on. Somedays this is an adequate salve to my mental woes and other days it becomes a catalyst for a dread so deep that I consider taking a gap semester merely months before graduating. Everyday, I remind myself of my mother’s perennial phrase: this too shall pass. Sometimes I believe it and other times I consider it too blasphemous to be biblical.
These aren’t simply unprecedented, challenging times or any other adjective used to encapsulate a world on its last straw. No word can sufficiently define these times that we find ourselves in. No word will ever be able to synopsize such stagnation, such despair, such…
There are no words.
Just know we are not okay.