“We Read to Know We’re Not Alone”
-Sir Anthony Hopkins,
as C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands
Last week, I was supposed to meet Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, during our college’s annual arts and literary festival, Sensoria. We had been anticipating her visit for months, then COVID 19 struck.
I listened to a podcast this morning featuring her work. She reflected on the iconic song, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. She remarked how this song is relevant, but the songwriter got one pivotal point wrong. She explained, “What Woody Guthrie forgot is we ARE the land”.
This quote struck me as a teacher. I sympathize with our students, but my feeling is we ARE our students right now. We are all in this together. I am not dealing with the magnitude of their pressures, however, I feel at one with them. Their issues are different, but the feelings of uncertainty and collective grief are the same. I just read my students’ posts on our Blackboard Discussion Board and my heart just hurts.
I want to say to my students:
I see you. I am listening. And, I love you. Is that too much? I don’t care.
I want to take this time to share a love letter to my students for their bravery, devotion to their families and their fight to stay in our course despite insurmountable challenges at this time.
To my students who are parents:
I hear you when you say that you have kids at home and it is hard to concentrate.
I am with you when you say you are scared.
I can understand your raw frustration when your kids are screaming and fighting in the background of our WebEx chats.
In their own words:
“The part of adjusting when I am doing school work now is that my little one is hanging on my hip. That is the biggest challenge. In a matter of 4 days, I have decided to follow the governor’s orders and stay home, to not only protect myself, but mainly my child who is under age 2. I had a job four days ago and now, I have lost my job. This is the biggest change adjusting to. I am back to being a full time mom, with a child stuck indoors and finishing this semester. As far as how am I feeling, I think stressed is the perfect word.”
“My son and I do yard work and go hiking and kayaking to pass the time by.”
“If I was to worry it would be for my four-month-old little girl. The only thing I need from you all is to keep all of the frontline medical workers and first responders in your thoughts. They are the real heroes during this pandemic.”
To my students who are worried about their grades:
I hear you when you say you are not good at English- though I would argue that you are.
I am with you when you say you didn’t sign up for an online class and you are uncomfortable with technology.
I can understand when you say it’s hard to write about things right now. My brain is also full of static.
In their own words:
“To be most sincere I’m not feeling that great. I’m a high school senior and all I wanted was to at least graduate after 12 years of hard work and endurance. I feel like the one thing that I have left has been taken from me and it has been very hard for me trying to figure out my life, from working.. making enough money to survive.”
“Dropping out of high school in the first half of junior year gives me a different perspective. I knew I was never going to experience walking across the aisle for a diploma, go to a prom, or enjoy being a senior. I also lost contact with a lot of friends from high school because I didn’t see them anymore. Going to CPCC everyday in a way fixed it, as I enjoyed seeing everyone on campus and because it is such a small campus, I feel like I knew everyone. Now, it feels like I dropped out all over again except this time, it wasn’t a choice.”
“I can agree with you about the grades. I was not doing so well with my chemistry class in person. How am I supposed to do well online?”
To my students finding out they are suddenly unemployed:
I hear you when you say you are afraid you can’t pay your bills and you worry about putting food on the table for your children.
I am with you when you say your uncertainty is crushing.
I can understand your anxiety being at an all-time high.
In their own words:
“My job had to shut down, which has been the largest source of my stress because I now have no income. I am unable to file for unemployment because my job did not file taxes, so after learning that I will not be able to receive financial help by the government during this time, it added a lot of stress.”
“I feel deeply for local businesses who have had to shut their doors because I am in the same boat. My job is owned and operated by all Vietnamese people whom I love deeply, but there is a large language barrier. My boss has been coming to me every day asking for updates on what is happening throughout the world and specifically our county because they do not understand the news. Over my time working with them, I have taught myself how to communicate effectively with them so I have been explaining what is going on. We have been shut down for over a week now and we thought it would be just for 2 weeks, but after the Governor’s update from last night, it will be for at least another 30 days. I had to tell my boss and co-workers this information and they were devastated and asked how can they could continue to afford to live and it broke my heart to have no answers for them.”
“I am in a similar situation. I work with kids in an after school program, but because school is canceled there is no after school program, and I am currently jobless at the moment. The whole situation is less than ideal. I didn’t even get to say bye to the kids, I just had to up and leave.”
I am also very proud of my students for so many reasons.
I am proud of your kindness and how you stand up for your fellow students. From sharing recipes you found on Pinterest, to yoga websites, you have been there for each other. When one of your classmates told us he was getting bullied for being of Asian descent during this crisis, you were tenacious in your support of him:
“I am also Asian and I feel a little afraid of going out in public. Although, nothing bad has happened to me yet and hopefully never will.”
“Though I am not Asian, I go to a Chinese church. Don’t worry. Most people here are very nice and even if someone is being mean to you for no reason, it is just because they’re not smart enough, so don’t concern yourself with that.”
“We can use our written communication skills to encourage and uplift others. Not only through technology, but also the old-fashioned way of writing letters. Words are powerful. We all have the ability to support others during this time of uncertainty.”
I am immensely proud of how you have used the research skills you have learned in our class to be able to find credible sources during this pandemic:
“I think a lot of people who get their news from a single source are really missing the full picture, and I am glad for this course for helping me to understand that. For example, it is good to understand that the polls showing confirmed cases are not an accurate depiction of the spread of the virus, since we aren’t testing everybody that is sick.”
“This course has helped me to look for what information is actually reliable and what side of the story some news outlets may be leaving out. It also has helped me to ensure I am fact-checking information I hear from other people since many people are panicking and spreading false information. For example, I had heard from someone that pets can carry the virus and first took that as a fact, but when I was politely challenged by my sister, I looked into it more and found that the CDC has no evidence claiming that pets can carry the virus.”
“I have easily been able to identify false information, and even try to tell my parents they are receiving false information from certain sites, and they do not believe me!”
This student even called out a fellow student for using Twitter as their primary news source:
“Also I don’t think Twitter is the best place to get your news unless it comes from a well known and reliable source. It’s just more believable that way. Not to say that other lesser known news or information sources don’t have the potential to give out quality information. I wish you would have specified exactly what the bits of information are that you have gathered from Twitter and later compared to other news sources.”
I am proud that ALL of you called out people in your age group about not observing social distancing regulations. You are getting a bad reputation in the media and it is not fair. Not all millennials and members of Generation Y are irresponsible. Students, like you, are leading the way!
“It bothers me to see friends and people I know defying the guidelines and posting on Instagram saying “ItS cOrOnA TiMe” and “SoCiAl DiStAnCiNg” when people are dying and they are being selfish by unknowingly spreading the disease.
I think it is so unfortunate when you see videos of people on spring break or just out and about not taking any of this seriously. The longer people ignore the CDC and WHO, the longer we will all have to be in quarantine.”
“Nonetheless, having this time to stay at home has given me an opportunity to really settle into a more present lifestyle, something that I have been trying to improve upon as a student. I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home and spend more quality time with my family and build stronger routines for every aspect in life such as wellness, and self-care. Also, being allowed to continue our education online and finish the semester as strong as possible is also a blessing.”
“My family and I watch both American and Serbian news from home and it’s astounding how differently the virus is portrayed in different areas of the world. Over in Europe, there seems to be a much more urgent vibe to the situation and more panic, while in the US we have kept pretty calm about the situation up until now.”
But, some students observed efforts to work together during this crisis:
“This pandemic has affected almost every nation on the planet. What has been amazing to see is that nations and leaders that otherwise have been adversaries have reached out to one another to offer aid to fight this disease. Humanity is simply reaching out to others and offering help and support when it is needed most. I think that through this course, we all have a positive outlet for learning and furthering our education which is a productive use of time while our lives are all affected by this pandemic. Being that the course timelines and expectations have changed, it is important to reach out to other classmates when needed and to offer help when you have the chance.”
“I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we need to come together as a community. In times like these, we are really able to see how much our well being depends on the actions of those around us, and who we choose to have around us.”
“More than just being kind, which should be a trait that everyone has regardless, we need to rely on each other and lean on each other. Martin Luther King Jr. had a wonderful quote that is especially true in times like these, ‘Through our scientific and technological genius we have made of this world, a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.’”
By Joy Harjo
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.