“I feel like the whole world now has to experience what we’ve been experiencing every day – figuring out how to live in the moment while planning for the future.”Big R.
I wish I could take credit for the profundity of the quote above, but all credit is due to my incredible partner in all this – Big R. You see, how you’re feeling about #COVID19 is how we feel every day. Every day that nothing gets worse is a gift. It’s wonderful to be able to wake up and make a hot breakfast for the family before we all become overwhelmed by our lives and the profound uncertainty that pervades them. Should we cancel that big trip we planned and paid for? What about little R’s birthday party? We really need to get on our estate plan. Did the medication refills get processed by the pharmacy? Crap – the next MRI is coming up in a couple weeks. Sometimes it feels like a weird, poorly balanced seesaw. Other times, a raging river propelling us forward whether we like it or not.
So, yeah, as a cancer patient with a recently depleted immune system, the threat of #COVID19 is increasingly real and scary. I’ve stopped going to the gym entirely; the skin on my hands may as well be rawhide at this point; the college where I teach has sent all its students home for the remainder of the semester; and every cough and sneeze rattles me deeply. It’s like Fate has laughed a hearty laugh (propelling large droplets of Fate’s notoriously infectious saliva through the air between us, naturally) in my face. “You thought cancer made you feel vulnerable? Hah! How about a global pandemic that disproportionately impacts the elderly and chronically ill?”
Since chemo ended in December, I had been slowly starting to feel more energetic. “Better,” even. But, I gotta hand it to ya, Fate – this whole exponentially growing super virus thing is a strong counter move. Well-played, Fate. Well-played.
Finding Comfort in Ritual
I’m not a religious person. The closest I come to practicing any sacred rituals is making a pour over coffee every morning. But today I experienced an unexpected “ritual” of sorts, and it was surprisingly soothing and heartwarming.
After finding out Tuesday they would be kicked off campus on Friday and classes would go entirely online for the rest of the semester, our students spontaneously organized a “Faux-mencement” ceremony for the class of 2020. In under 40 hours, they folded ~80 origami mortar board caps, rallied facilities and dining services to set up a stage and refreshments in the middle of campus, and convinced the provost and president to speak and hand out “degrees.” Nearly all the faculty turned out in regalia (of one form or another) to cheer on the new “graduates.”
In that moment I was so proud of our community (and especially our students). I also realized the vital importance of rituals. Imagine how sad and distressed you’d be if, as a senior in college, your graduation were canceled due to a global pandemic. Opportunities to hug and take photos with your family and friends of the last four years – gone. The chance to say “thank you” to an influential teacher – gone. A beautiful spring day devoted entirely to celebrating your accomplishments – gone.
In my post, “Graduations, Community, and Connectedness,” I wrote about how meaningful last year’s graduation ceremony was to me. Following so closely as it did on the heels of my diagnosis, I didn’t think another graduation ceremony would ever again have such a personal impact on me. But, Class of 2020 (and all your Olin peers), you did it. You created an indelible, warm, and joyous memory for me at a time of deep anxiety, fear, and darkness. That’s more than I ever dared hope for from the graduation ritual, “faux” or not.