After all, during the most trying of times, it’s often the only viable solution left. Without answers and lacking any real sense of direction, striving to keep a level head and broad sense of perspective can do wonders for you in any given situation, including the global pandemic we find ourselves faced with today.
Just two short weeks ago, I began skimming the news and slowly digesting several stories revolving around COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. It seemed so strange and distant at the time, almost otherworldly. Besides, in my universe, I had other things to tend to, including upcoming midterm exams and spring break plans with family and friends. To top things off, this outbreak was occurring 7,300 miles away. Through my naiveté, I felt a sense of security and a general lack of concern toward the evolving situation. However, as the days progressed, there developed a tangible sense of unease in the air, as I became surrounded and engulfed by murmurs of what was to come. Upon reflection, I realized that at this point, I had a general respect for the way the virus was progressing, but a gross misunderstanding of its potential magnitude. Additionally, I was blind to the possibility of this development having any direct impact on my world.
So my life went on. I pushed myself physically at the gym, trading sweat with numerous free weight machines (and dare I say, other students). I spent my nights at the library, crossing paths with a myriad of individuals, diligently preparing for midterms. And I immersed myself within dense urban crowds on the weekends. In those blissful moments, I was able to soak in the simple pleasures of life on a college campus in a carefree manner.
To add to the favorable trajectory of my life at this point in time, just a week prior I had won the student lottery to travel to Brooklyn, New York on an all-expense-paid trip to cheer on the Billikens basketball team in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. In the coming days, I was sent an exhaustive itinerary for the upcoming week, had my suitcase stuffed with “Billiken blue” fan gear, and was filled with excitement and optimism prior to our departure.
In conjunction with my growing excitement for the week, whispers of COVID-19 in the media had also become somewhat amplified. I would liken the intensity of this noise to an “indoor voice,” you know, the volume teachers recommend when students are getting too loud—to signal the need to quiet down, but still allow them to communicate with others.
We all know how well that typically works.
Needless to say, that energy continued to rise and ultimately would fill my eyes and ears with constant stimulus no matter where I turned. Still, as I sat on my couch with my bags packed for Brooklyn, I was foolishly certain that this novel coronavirus would not affect me or have the ability to impact my life. Not here. Not now.
Then the email came.
The note from President Pestello, Ph.D., and the President’s Office arrived swiftly in my inbox at 6:58 p.m on Tuesday, March 10. The subject line read: “SLU Temporarily Suspends In-Person Courses; Issues New Travel Restrictions.”
Okay, but the trip to Brooklyn is still on, right? I mean, after all, the tickets had been paid for, the hotels were booked, and the itinerary was set. We’ll just hop on the plane and enjoy our trip to Brooklyn, right?
I would not be heading to Brooklyn.
As I would find out two days later, neither would any of the players and teams scheduled in attendance. Ultimately, the A-10 tournament, all major conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament were canceled, citing concerns of COVID-19.
So instead, I threw five t-shirts and a pair of jeans in a duffle bag, grabbed my laptop and proceeded to drive eight hours home to Minnesota. I understood the precautions in place, but I still honestly questioned its legitimacy. In order to cope with my disappointment and, hopefully, draw some conclusions for myself, I spent the majority of the car ride home listening to various podcasts detailing the seriousness of COVID-19 and potential future scenarios. Even after all that windshield time spent searching for answers, I still could not wrap my mind around potential implications surrounding the virus’ impact on my life in the foreseeable future. Going through worst-case scenarios in my mind, I had expected nothing more than a short hiatus and at most, maybe a week or so off of school. And if I’m being completely honest, with my busy life on campus, I would have responded yes to that scenario nine times out of ten if given the option.
As you can probably deduce with my less than adequate packing, I still had no true understanding of the severity of the situation. I had an inkling things were about to get worse, but to what degree, I had no clue. Besides, as far as I was concerned, I had reached a safe haven back home in Minnesota. A little R&R, some home-cooked meals and quality time with family sounded more like a vacation than a safety measure. Additionally, when it would be time to head back to St. Louis, I still had so many things to look forward to including March Madness, Greek Week, Spring Formals, concerts and all the amazing events that student organizations had planned for the remainder of the year. My spirits were high. Surely, we would be back in action in no time.
Unfortunately, I could not have been more wrong.
After a series of disheartening emails and government announcements, my eyes were finally opened and reality quickly set in. COVID-19 had quietly crept into my life and was about to make its presence known. In the foreseeable future, there would be no more sporting events, no major public gatherings and perhaps most notably, the class of 2020 could effectively kiss senior year as well as college goodbye.
The things I had taken for granted ten short days ago—going to the gym, attending meetings for student organizations, participating in classes and labs, going out to restaurants and bars—were all gone. What once seemed so far away and so unlikely to have even the slightest impact on me and my future was now transforming everything I have known and have become accustomed to. In the last 72 hours, I have felt a combination of sadness, confusion, general uncertainty and an overwhelming desire for answers to the same questions that everyone seems to be asking.
Even amidst the whirlwind of emotions and uncertainty I was feeling surrounding the pandemic, I quickly became more intrigued by the public response than disappointed in my immediate future. There was, and is, something incredibly interesting to me about the shared communal reaction and temporary shift in the perspective of many individuals following shocking or life-changing events.
I will preface this by saying we saw a similar reaction with the death of Kobe Bryant earlier this year. Everyone believed Kobe to be a god-like, untouchable entity, until he wasn’t. It’s human nature to experience disbelief and awe when the unexpected occurs. After all, it’s “un-expected” for a reason.
With that being said, there is an undeniable eeriness that lies in the reality that many of us did not know that 10-14 days ago would be the last time we were able to participate in a certain activity or do something we love. We went through the motions, as we believed in an infinite reality surrounding ourselves and the activities that compose our routine life. All too often, we take our everyday lives for granted and do not realize that each and every single day we wake up, we are cheating death once again. There are no promises, period, and when we hear that truth in an inspirational quote or self-help book, we believe it to be nothing more than a nice sentiment.
The reality is, any time you do anything, it could be the final hurrah, grand finale, the last dance or you name it. It’s a shame that it takes a life-altering event for us to realize this.
But regardless, when we find ourselves in the position we are in, there is nothing left to do but invest in optimism. It is far better to carry a glass-half-full mentality and believe in the best-case scenario and be wrong than to always expect the worst and be right. As many of our everyday lives continue to be put on hold, I encourage you to find joy in simplicity. Whether it be taking much needed time for reflection, calling relatives on the phone, rekindling old hobbies, reading or doing something you love—push forward. Develop a new routine and continue to work toward long-term goals. Doing so will ensure you are more ready than ever and filled with newfound gratitude towards life once “the storm” passes. Be cognizant of what others may be going through and do your part to act socially responsible and with care.
I will leave you with this: take one day at a time, give your best effort in each and every one of your pursuits and let the chips fall where they may. Things will get better.