Tuesday, March 31, 2020

So, How's Everybody Doing?

Since last I blogged on March 15th, I've been spending a lot of time at home-- and so have many other people I know.  As the coronavirus continues to cause life as we know it to come to a standstill, social distancing has become the norm.  In downtown Boston, the streets are strangely quiet:  restaurants, clubs, libraries, museums, theaters, and schools are all closed. Speaking of schools, I taught my first college classes online this past week, and as I figured, the Journalism class was easier to adapt to an online mode than the Public Speaking class was.  I hope I did okay-- I have some wonderful students, and I want this to be a positive experience for them. (Many of my friends are teachers or professors, and we're all trying to find the most effective ways to help our students learn. But I think the majority of us wish we could be back in the classroom.)

While I don't mind getting on social media sometimes, or writing a blog post, or watching some videos on YouTube, I'm not accustomed to living so much of my life online.  Our faculty meetings are now online, conferences with the students we advise are online, and if I want to chat with friends of mine, we're doing that online too (although I do notice an increase in telephone calls, and a few folks are even sending cards-- some old-school customs still work!).  There are some other changes I've noticed:  I went to the pharmacy (one of the few businesses allowed to stay open), and there are now lines on the floor, reminding us to stand six feet from other customers as we wait for our prescription. Radio and TV shows are still having guests appear, but most no longer come to the studio-- they either call in or they appear via Zoom or Skype. (Even news anchor teams are sitting six feet from each other.)    

I feel bad for friends of mine who are performers:  all sorts of events have had to be postponed. That includes the May 16th celebration of Rush drummer Neil Peart's life (it has been re-scheduled for October 17th, by which time, we hope thing will be back to some semblance of normal). And I also feel bad for students who are graduating (including my step-daughter, who is getting a Master's Degree):  this year, thousands of students will have a virtual-- rather than an actual-- graduation. (Fortunately, at least the diplomas will be real.)  Above all, I feel bad for older people who are living alone and can't go out to eat or attend an event; many don't have access to Skype or Zoom (nor do they know how to use these platforms). This is also an issue for folks in nursing homes and hospitals: these facilities have had to restrict all visitors, and loneliness is becoming a real problem.

As for me, other than some sleepless nights, I know I'm actually very lucky.  And I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels worried and uneasy-- I mean, I'm 73, and while I try to take care of my health, this virus can strike almost anyone, almost anywhere, and especially folks over 65.  But I'm well aware that many other people are confronting a far more immediate danger: I'm thinking of the doctors and nurses and paramedics and hospital staff and ambulance drivers, who put their own health at risk, as they try to save lives.  And I'm also grateful for the journalists who are covering the news and keeping the public informed, as well as the letter carriers, the truck drivers, and the folks at the pharmacies and banks and grocery stores.  In these dangerous and difficult times, there are a lot of everyday heroes who deserve our thanks.

On Wednesday night, the Jewish holiday of Passover, the Festival of Freedom, begins; this year, many Jews will be having virtual seders (I've never done one before, but I guess there's a first time for everything); and many of my Christian friends won't be able to invite people over for Easter. This terrible illness has changed us in many ways, but one thing hasn't changed: I still notice people reaching out to others and expressing their concern; I still see people doing good deeds or random acts of kindness to help those who are less fortunate. Charities like Donors Choose are still collecting funds for kids who are studying at home but lack school supplies. And while some folks insist on going online to argue politics, I sense that a large number of people would just like to see an end to the petty griping, the grievances, and the partisan bickering. I don't know how long we'll be fighting this virus. I don't know when there will be a cure. But I do know that love and faith and compassion are needed now more than ever. Wherever you are, I'm thinking of you, and sending my love. And please, let me know how you're doing!     

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Adapting to the New Normal

These are some of the strangest days of my lifetime. We are all living through a global outbreak of the Coronavirus, and in state after state, governors are ordering closures of schools and colleges, restaurants, local sporting events, museums, and most other places where people gather in large groups. Suddenly, I'll be teaching all my courses online, and my students are being told to stay away from campus. My husband and I have a wedding anniversary coming up (#33), but we won't be able to celebrate by going out to eat-- in fact, many folks are finding that events they were looking forward to are being postponed, including the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Boston Marathon (even the upcoming commemoration of Neil Peart's life, scheduled for mid-May, might have to be put on hold).

The good news about working from home is I don't have to spend an hour in traffic every day, and the number of meetings I have to attend at work has been eliminated. Without a long commute, I have more available time for catching up on reading, working on some unfinished articles, listening to the radio, or enjoying some music videos. On the other hand, I've never taught online, and I have one week to learn how to do it. I'm accustomed to face-to-face classes, where I can interact with my students directly.  I'm still wondering how my Public Speaking students will adapt to this... part of the coursework included going out and evaluating some professional speakers, but with so many public events cancelled, they'll have to do it via TED talks or other online videos-- not the same as attending a live speech, but it will have to do.

And speaking of getting used to doing things differently, some folks will find themselves more isolated than before.  This is especially true for the elderly. I have a friend who is 96, and she is worried about going out at all, since older people are supposed to the most vulnerable; in her area, most of the places she goes to socialize have closed, and activities have been canceled too. (If you have older relatives you might want to call them. Not everyone has a computer, and getting a friendly phone call can really brighten someone's day.)  I'm also concerned about all the kids whose schools have closed down-- for lots of children, school is not just a place to learn; it's a place see their friends. That daily routine is something kids look forward to. And now, it won't be available for a while. (More importantly: I hope local governments develop a plan to help kids living in poverty-- they rely on those school lunches.) 

Meanwhile, all over the country, nurses and doctors and other healthcare workers are facing the same uncertainty as the rest of us, as they try to contain the spread of the virus and help keep the population healthy.  As a cancer survivor, I am eternally grateful for the good medical care I've received, and I'm well aware of the stress these folks are often under as they try to save lives. Working during a pandemic is certainly stressful, and I applaud the people on the front lines, who are fighting this virus; I also applaud the scientists trying to find a vaccine for it. But please beware of the online scam artists who claim to have magical cures.  Every time there's a new disease, these fraudsters come along, insisting they have a cure for it. Don't be fooled. 

There will be numerous inconveniences in the days ahead, but I am certain we will find a way to cope. I must admit I'm going to miss live sports and live music.  And I'll be glad when I can take my students out for an ice cream again.  But for now, it's a good time to take care of your health (don't forget: social distancing, thorough hand-washing!), and it's a good time to reach out to your friends, in real life and on social media.  We've gotten through difficult times before, and as disconcerting as things are right now, we'll get through this too.