by Sophie Nickel, 06/16/2020, Traverse City, MI

High School 9-12 Category

Coronavirus. Medical masks. Global pandemic.

These words have become akin to the song Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. In the time that I have been home, the outbreak has become the subject of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To be honest, it is not the most favorable diet for anyone. Nevertheless, this pandemic has established a new normalcy; a normalcy that has inflicted confusion and dread over an entire planet.
The final week of my junior year arrived sooner than expected. In the first month of the new year, awareness about the situation in Wuhan arose; no one knew it would come to this. We hear stories of people who die in a fiery car crash or fall fatally ill, but we like to assume crises like these will not occur in our own lives. However, these are events that we do not plan for. It would be remarkable if someone had “STAY AT HOME ORDER BEGINS” marked on their calendar. That final week in a “normal” world escalated quickly: students, teachers, doctors, the government, and everyone else quickly fell into a new mode of life: survival. I know that sounds dramatic, but when you are not thriving, what are you?
The day after what would later be known as the last day of school, I met with my best friend, and we discussed our frustration towards the piles of cancellations and anxieties that laid before us; however, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Only a few days later my friends and I gathered at my house and complained about our current situation (not knowing how much more was to come) before engaging in a “friendly” game of Monopoly. These nights with my friends are deeply important to me, and I like to think my friends feel the same way. After all, social interaction is kind of important and is hopefully enjoyable. We were enjoying our time together, and we were a group of ten or less; we were fine right? At this time our concerns were focused on flimsy paper money and tiny plastic houses; we did not know our tribulations would continue for months.
Needless to say, it has been a while since we gathered for game night. Just as weeks turned into a month, a month turned into indefinite uncertainty, leading to the cancellation of in-class schooling across the state. This disturbing and unsettling way of life was here for a longer stay than presumed; the nature of the situation, however, can feel like a slow death. Humans were made to be together; but how are we supposed to be together in a time when we are ordered to stay apart? Stress, emotional breakdowns, loneliness, and discouragement fall on the shoulders of many. Grandparents, parents, children, and teenagers are presented with new burdens to bear. Employers, employees, and co-workers are presented with new working conditions. Friends, neighbors, and strangers are being called to combat the effects of the virus with relaxation, emotional support, community, and encouragement. We do this because we are fighting a war not against each other, but for each other.
I have had friends call me at two in the morning because they were lonely. People I have not spoken to for months reached out because their lives significantly changed in the midst of the pandemic. Prayers were spoken daily in my house for friends and strangers affected by COVID-19. We worried about our family, the ones who were not close. Some of these family members’ jobs have changed significantly. My brother is a pastor, and my sister is a professor. Human contact is important for both of their professions: weekly services, funerals, weddings, pastoral care; daily classes, student support, office hours, and campus activities. What are they supposed to do when there is nothing to do?
Months of separation and anxiety wield the power to change not only a person’s lifestyle, but the person themselves. While we are plagued with being alone, we experience an urge to take action against the enemy. However, action against a virus is different because we can not see it. We depend on doctors and scientists while we wait in our homes feeling powerless. Cooperation was our only task, but we craved to do more. So when the world tilted sideways again, this time due to social injustice, more people than ever before seemed to be moved to confront it. More people, more protests, and hundreds of social media posts have flooded my world. I think it is moving. I do find it interesting, however, that after decades of social injustice and police brutality, now is the time so many people loudly rise against it. COVID helped get us to this point. After months of sitting idly, our worry and desire to fight have an antagonist we can see: injustice. Our power that was taken away by an invisible virus is being restored in the unifying fight for justice that became visual, palpable, and painful.
Daily updates on the state of the world have brought much grief, nevertheless action has followed grief. Whenever we are called to fight against something, we should be fighting for something. Our generation is fighting for two things. One is the ability for black people to feel comfortable around the police, to feel represented in popular television shows, and to feel confident walking down the street without being stereotyped. The other is for us to be back at work, back in each other’s arms, and back in a way of life allowing closeness. If our actions to combat grief are successful, the future generation will have a model to transform their grief into swift action against their conflicts.