By Amy Boyle
Spring break is a time when students put a pause on academics and remind themselves to live. To college student Jennalynn Cisna, it meant a week-long trip touring Europe, but what she saw instead was a crisis beginning to unfold.
“We left for Austria March 6… came back, and everything had gone to hell,” she explains.
For her, there would be no return to normalcy after arriving home. Instead, two weeks of self-quarantine and a lack of closure, confronted with the reality of a crisis and no time for goodbyes, only preparation for the unexpected.
In Dec. 2019, the first case of coronavirus was identified in Wuhan, China. In the months that would follow: school closings, trip cancellations, social distancing and economic devastation at a global level. What began as a few sporadic cases in East Asia rapidly escalated into a pandemic sweeping nations across the world and costing the lives of over 100,000 people. And as death tolls increase, so too does its impact on the living as people struggle to make sense of the physical, emotional and economic damage it has wrought.
Until recently, “immunocompromised” was a term unfamiliar to most, it has now become a word people use to describe the likes of their grandparents, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, those more susceptible to contracting the virus. High school senior, Jenny Rodriguez is among those feeling particularly worried about this public health risk as someone with a compromising chronic condition.
“I’ve been quite anxious…” she explains, “I have asthma and wouldn’t handle it well.”
But for Rodriguez, the challenges of this outbreak extend beyond threats to her health. They threaten hopes she holds for her future as well. Hers is an experience many students identify with–the challenges of completing schoolwork during an unprecedented online transition as well as grieving the absence of friends and missing hallmark high school experiences. The uncertainty of having a graduation ceremony has been especially difficult she goes on to reveal, as “the first in my immediate family to graduate, walking the stage is a big thing for me.”
For many, grief has become the new normal–losing loved ones, losing employment, even losing motivation to get up. “My room is a mess, and I feel the same way about my life right now” said Pike junior Malachi Morris. High school senior, Emma Wilson shares, “it’s hard for me to even get out of bed, I am dealing with loads of negative emotions…I often feel like there is nothing to look forward to”.
For others asked to describe their COVID experience: “Surreal. Upsetting. Frustrating. Disappointing. Stifling. Depressing. Worrying. Exhausting. Lonely. Reflective.” were a few among the varying responses offered. But, regardless of the generation, social class, politics or ethnicity, one common thread was undeniably evident–feelings of loss and pain, yet an equally powerful commitment to resilience.
Exhausting is the word that captures how this experience has been for many medical workers, health professionals and others working endlessly to meet the needs of those around them. School social worker Tammy Coe is a chief example of an individual determined to help however she can, laboring tirelessly to ensure that the students and parents she serves have access to the resources they need during this stressful season. She is emblematic of how some have taken these circumstances and transformed them into opportunities of selflessness.
Being thrust into a global crisis has ushered in unprecedented loss and adjustment, feelings of powerlessness, stagnation and lack of motivation have become trademarks of the corona experience as people confront what this pandemic has meant for them. And acknowledging these circumstances and accepting the pain they inflict is essential.
“COVID 19 is REAL” Tammy Coe assures, “and we are all going through this at different levels… what I do know is that we will get through this.” And during this time when “people are experiencing a great deal of isolation and loneliness… listening is the most important skill anyone can have” Coe continues, “people just need someone to listen… being more mindful and encouraging of others” is how people can affect some positive change during this otherwise out-of-control season.
A season that has brought undeniable suffering, but also a spirit of resilience, revitalized hope, and the urgency to love one another earnestly. “This sudden and drastic shift has caused me to re-evaluate my life…a chance to start anew, to change my life for the better”, Jennalynn Cisna affirms.