(This is the third part of a three-part series. For the first installment, click here. For the second installment, click here.)
Once this period is behind us, it’s likely that historians will focus on the front-line heroism, the political discord, and the sheer scale of the disruption and devastation. But what we are all living through is also deeply personal.
While each of the following three pieces are unique, they are held together by their shared attention to the ways that the virus has impacted the authors’ lives. Here’s hoping that historians embrace these kinds of stories as well.
This third installment of COVID Chronicles is written by Kaltumo, Sarah, and Payton.
What is Really Happening Now?
What is really happening right now? It’s a question I’ve asked myself since the first case of coronavirus. When I heard about it, for some reason I did have that slight feeling that something was gonna go wrong, I just didn’t know it was going to be this wrong.
Coronavirus really has found a way to touch every single aspect of my life. Typically, I have a life that consists of pretty much never seeing my family. I go to school, go to work, and hang out with my friends, and just those three things take up pretty much all of my schedule. I only have time to sleep. Now, my father who is pretty much always out of the country travelling, is home. I don’t go to work, I don’t go to school, and I don’t hang out with my friends.
I have a journal I keep that I at least try to write in every day. The following entries are a snapshot of where my mind went in the first few weeks of quarantine.
March 20: First day staying home from school. I seem to be quite enjoying it, even while I am hoping, and expecting it to end very soon. It was the first wave of me seeing multiple people in masks. It was the beginning of me actually becoming afraid of what might happen. Heard about the first death in Vermont caused by the Coronavirus. It’s in my backyard now apparently, and It feels like it’s closing in on me.
March 26: It was officially announced that the Vermont schools would be closed for the rest of the school year. I’m not very happy about this. It’s getting way too real and I don’t know what to do with my life. I would like to say that as an individual I do tend to have a lot of control of my own life. I always have. I mean of course I have parents who control what time I should be home and blah blah blah, but I feel pretty much in complete control of the majority of my life, and this is beginning to make me feel powerless. I’m scared. This is not something I can control, and this is clearly something that is not going to go away any time soon either.
March 27: I am being put on furlough by my workplace. At this point, I seem to have lost hope. I don’t have anything I can do and this point to take my mind off of everything, and I cannot stop looking at the news. I haven’t slept in days feeling like I have insomnia at this point. Listening to what the president has to say is not putting my mind at ease. My mother is part of the group of people who are “immunocompromised, or immunosuppressed” so that even brings up my anxiety more. The majority of my day is spent just thinking and wishing, but I feel hopeless. All I can do is wait. All I can do is watch the tragedy unfold, and watch the president and the government mishandle the situation.
Whenever I think about death and illness in the world, my immediate thought is “It’s sad, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with me.” I feel that that is one of the reasons why this has escalated as quickly as it has. People don’t care about anything unless it’s happening to them or someone they know. However, in reality, as mortals, every illness and tragedy is a problem for all of us.
The Wrench in the Machine
While COVID-19 has shaken the lives of Americans in a myriad of different ways, there is one experience that I happen to share with millions: the disruption of school. More specifically, the process of applying to college. The landscape of the college admission process has been a vast and unwavering one for many decades, but today, I can say that I am experiencing a great deal of new uncertainty. Each day, a dozen email updates arrive offering virtual tours and webinars, all trying to shine a light through their respective fog of confusion. There’s a strange dichotomy of both feeling like there are no answers, while simultaneously being flooded with information, and the question emerges of whether the inexorable cycle of higher education is finally being disrupted.
The American education system has been critiqued almost to the point of comedy. Between the inequity of college prep options, the price gouging of simple things like textbooks, and the lottery of the admissions process that places its value on family legacies, any sort of campaign for reform has been squashed by the sheer volume of ludicracy. Or at least, that’s what I would have said a month ago. One of the few things that can be said for certain in this time is that things are changing. With students unable to take standardized tests, at least 51 colleges and universities have dropped the ACT/SAT requirements at least through the fall of 2021. CollegeBoard is now providing options for online AP practice, and has greatly modified the structure of their exams. As of mid April, it has been announced that the SAT will be made available online if schools haven’t reopened by the fall. The organization cites that the students hit hardest by the crisis are often the ones with the fewest resources, and they are committed to making sure they have a fair chance in the admission office.
On top of that, the typical resume of a college-bound student seems virtually unattainable. Grades are either nonexistent or relegated to Pass/Fail. Extracurriculars, sports most of all, are almost entirely gone. The only way to show your leadership skills and charitable work is to help with the pandemic in some way, but even that does not distinguish you when thousands of others are doing the same thing. While there was already an inequity among students’ ability and opportunity to earn good grades and EC’s, that gap has only been widened. As a college advisor in North Carolina points out, “Colleges will also likely need to find new ways to assess students’ growth and to compare students, with and without grades, fairly.” Is this possible when, even without a pandemic, college admissions are barely better than random? Will the college admission process ever be truly equitable?
Emotion in Journal Entries
“I watch the wind from my window and imagine that I can see it in color, making it happiness amongst these sad times as it blows across the world.”
Throughout my journal writing, a main theme is nature and how it has brought me happiness. While a simple dictionary defines happiness as “the state of being happy,” I define happiness as going the extra mile to smile and make others happy, and in my writing, I hope to find a sliver of it in these sad times.
From my window, I observe the towering pine trees from a distance and watch as they stand tall, unaffected by the life below them. One day I walked to those pines and looked up for a long time. You can tell they are older trees and that they have been standing in this one spot long enough to witness a lot. They are the true figure that represents time. Elements of nature began to be the light in the darkness for me, as flowers began to bloom and trees began to bud. Nature is a solid foundation in our life that won’t change if untouched.
“Time never stops and yet I feel stuck.”
Lately, I have been trapped in my own emotions. I wrote this line one day when this feeling was particularly strong. It feels so greedy getting this upset, since I am actually fairly lucky in the house I live in. As I have been watching the death toll rise, I sometimes feel like my own emotions are unfair, and imagine people who are supposed to be strong and give us the facts instead crumbling, with fear etched on their faces. In moments like this, I think back to the trees and try to imagine standing tall like them, and going about life as best I can. I wish there was more that I could do, but I feel that my writing isn’t going to change the outcome of this pandemic. I feel that I can follow the rules, but any chance I have in helping the cause besides staying inside will amount to nothing.
“As much as this saddens me, there are millions of people who are losing their family members and more or less losing hope.”
As I was writing this journal entry, I began to feel very ungrateful. I keep anticipating that I will wake up from this nightmare and the unnamed emotions, but instead I wake to more pain. I often take on peoples’ pain, which is something else I have written about. This trait, I have found to be both good and bad. On the one hand, I am very good at sympathizing with people on a smaller scale, but now I feel so empty and upset that I can’t help anyone. It’s a scary feeling, being helpless. I watch my mom go to her shifts at the hospital and the other heroes doing what they can to help, and I just feel like this virus is out of everyone’s control right now.
“In the end, what will change?”
This question has come up twice in my writing and in other assignments… I honestly wonder if we will bounce back and return our lives after this with no change, or whether we will go about life differently? We only live once, and this whole pandemic has made me realize how much I cherish this life, and I wonder… Will others begin to feel the same?