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Last Friday, I watched out my office window as children burst out of the doors of their school to board the buses for what my second grader is calling a “really, really big spring break.”
The night before, at 11 pm, Governor Whitmer ordered all Michigan schools to shut down effective Monday. With no reported cases of the novel coronavirus in our county or our district, we had, in the curriculum office where I work, one final day of school to prepare for our closure. That’s a short window of time for processing as a community and providing reassurance for our kids.
Teachers and staff, who likely sneaked in a few side hugs in addition to lots of elbow bumps, circled around to send their students off, their bags full of books and packets of activities to occupy them at home for the next three weeks or who knows how long.
Anyone who has been in a school or worked anywhere near one knows that the day before long breaks are traditionally electric ones. The promise of a break from routine revs everyone up in a thousand different ways.
For every handful of kids giddy for time off from school, there are also those who quietly or subconsciously dread it, those who are not being sent home to adventure and possibility, but to empty houses, to parents who have no choice but to leave for work each morning or night, to empty cupboards and empty calendars. Structure and routine can play the role of both a burden and a blessing.
Over the last week or so, as commitments on my calendar have popped like bubbles sent off into the wind, I’ve grown more unsettled. During the middle of the school day on Friday, I sat in my office, wringing my hands, staring at my laptop, and wondering how I could help. Wondering if it was worth my time to start compiling a list of distance learning opportunities to share with teachers when so many were already doing this — a quick glance at Twitter or Facebook revealed lists of educational websites and homeschool schedules that multiplied by the millisecond.
At that helpless moment, I kept looking out my window, toward the school. It’s the elementary that my youngest two sons attend. Last year when I left the middle school where I taught for more than a decade for a new job as an instructional coach, the first thing I did when I arrived in my new office was to turn my desk to face the window. I wanted to be certain to keep the classrooms in my sight. I wanted only to need to look up to be reminded why I was there, to stay focused on the kids.
“Let’s go,” I said to a colleague and we gladly closed our laptops and grabbed our coats to walk over to the school. We needed to talk with teachers face-to-face, to see the kids cozied up in the classrooms — to be with them, beside them, rather than just worrying about them.
Being inside the school was the nourishment we needed. Teachers thanked us for coming to check on them, but it was mostly selfish on our part. It’s hard to be isolated, especially in times of uncertainty. And that was just the beginning.
The last week has been such a strange mixture of urgency and uselessness.
I’ve realized just how much daily stress and busyness fool me into believing how important I am, how vital my to-do list actually is — or isn’t. A few days quarantined has been a reminder of how little I actually control.
Everything on my calendar now seems to have an asterisk next to it. Everything is tentative, even writing this blog has made me nervous because so much may change between the time I press send on my email to submit and the moment it posts. To pass time and keep our hands and heads busy, I’ve been pulling out jigsaw puzzles for my family. I’m having trouble pulling myself away from them, because there, I can find the pieces. I can make things fit. I can pretend I am in charge of something.
Our plans, our calendars are a human attempt to add certainty to a future we are never guaranteed. We long for control, to know what’s coming — even now, my husband and I (who are spending more time together than ever) keep having the same futile conversation: what’s next? We desperately want to know what our calendars will look like in a few weeks, whether our kids will have baseball seasons, whether we’ll be able to keep vacation plans, when school will be back in session, when we’ll be back sitting face-to-face with our colleagues instead of across a screen from them. But the reality is we have no idea. We do not know what tomorrow will bring.
Here is the place in this blog where I feel like I should insert Bible verses about hope and confidence. Yet that feels a bit trite to me. Hear me clearly: God’s presence does not feel trite. The Bible is not trite. But using the Bible like a Hallmark card makes me bristle. Searching for one verse — one that is often taken out of context — to plop into a particular situation, is not reassuring. God is much too big for that.
Thinking back to those kids leaving school on Friday and the heaviness of love and worry and care that I saw adults sending those little ones off with — that scene says something to me about God. That scene was one of faith, a reminder that although we are in charge of so little, we are resting in something much bigger than ourselves. Something much bigger than our feeble, precarious plans.
The last several, slow mornings I’ve awoken to extraordinary sunrises. The robins have been chirping loudly enough to be heard through my closed windows. My dog still wants his head rubbed, and this morning, I had time to watch him chase squirrels into the trees. Daffodils are beginning to poke their green limbs above the ground. My son still wants me to lie beside him to read bedtime stories. Though I can’t see them, so many good friends have checked in.
I am in charge of so little and I do not know what is next, and yet, I am assured of a measure of grace.
Taking care of each other looks a bit different right now — like staring out the window at a school, but understanding that right now it’s not feasible to just walk over, to just walk in and experience the comfort of community, the communion of a crowd. But if our faith is truly a practice, if it’s a day-to-day, real and messy exercise in not seeing but believing, if it’s a constant process of loosening our clenched fists and relinquishing our attempts to will the future we want into being, we still have plenty of work to do.