Pandemic reflection

Where were you on September 11, 2001? On 9/11, I was an undergraduate student at McGill. I turned off my radio just as the announcer said something about ‘New York’ and ‘plane crash’. I made it in to class without understanding the significance of those words. I emerged onto the Arts steps to an entirely different world. Nearly 20 years later, I can still tell you in alarming detail how I spent the morning, even though I was in Montreal, and I was, all things considered, okay.

I searched for news, but every news site trailed off after a couple of sentences with, “more to come”. I sent off emails, but no one was checking. I made phone calls, but no one was answering. I can remember looking to make contact. I went home. I can remember the panicked moments in my apartment, alone. My roommates were in class. My mother was in another city, and my partner was in another country and time zone. In 2001, we depended on landlines to contact each other, and we depended on News Media to dispense the information, but there was no one to contact, and no further information to dispense.

In the context of Covid-19, now as a parent and teacher, I find myself thinking about my 9/11. It feels the same, and it feels different. It feels apocalyptic. It feels like it is all happening too slowly, and too fast. It feels like the world is ending, again. It feels mundane, but significant. It is exhausting.

The fact that I am replaying 9/11 in my mind, and comparing and contrasting, has taught me two things that I did not know a week ago:

(1) I still carry trauma from 9/11. I did not have a difficult 9/11, as far as the range of 9/11 experiences goes. But I nonetheless carry trauma that was buried so deeply that I needed another trauma to reveal it to me and,

(2) This is also traumatic. We are collectively experiencing something traumatic, and we can’t do it together in the ways that we otherwise would. Most of my (and many of our) coping mechanisms are exactly the opposite of social distancing.

In many ways, I am not okay. But, as a parent, I have to maintain a level of control. I am trying to keep up strength and resolve and empathy and understanding. As a teacher, I am trying to pay attention to the trauma. I am worrying about what everyone will remember, what I will remember. I am exhausted. I alternate between falling asleep while reading bedtime stories, and staying up too late as I try to read all the news, and try to parse this new world.

So, as a parent and a teacher, I am trying to pay attention to the memories being etched, to the lessons being inadvertently learned. I am trying to stay calm, but – the emotional labour required is astounding.

Many of us will remember. Many of us will remember March 2020 in alarming detail. The way that we were jolted out of whatever security and routine we have in our precarious lives, and, if we are lucky, the way that we were made to feel secure in a suddenly different routine. The way that we are listened to, or not. The way that we make connections, or not. The way we feel lost, or found.

Whether you are a student or a teacher, a parent or a child, a young adult or young at heart, what you do will have an impact on others. In this time of jarring news bulletins  half an hour apart, your fear and panic, or your calm and resolve, may be etched in memory. But it will also impact those around you. Know this. Try to acknowledge it as a parent or a teacher or a child. As a brother or sister.

It is exhausting trying to carry on as though everything is fine. It is not fine. Something has to give. For me, it is my expectations. It is my work. And I am trying to hold my emotions together for the kids. I am grieving, but I am not quite sure what for. I am grateful for any emotional connection I am able to make. For all of the check-ins I have received. For responses to any of my attempts to reach others.

So, know that you are not alone. Keep reaching out. Keep checking in. Acknowledge where you are, and consider acknowledging it to others. Many of the ways that we would attempt to connect are not available. Social distance is hard. Physical distance is difficult. It can also be revealing.

It is revealing of ableist assumptions that this is a choice. It is revealing of an often false assumption that home is a comfort, or that home is a safe place. It is revealing of the extent of the digital divide.

It can be revealing of the depth of our empathy. So, take care. Take care of yourself and your others. Take care of your students and your neighbours.

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