Author’s Note: I wrote this post as a message to those at my University who continue to struggle valiantly through the hardships of COVID-19. Still, it holds a certain value for all of us as we navigate towards what will hopefully be the end of Pandemic Life.
Pandemic shutdowns began just over a year ago. On March 12, 2020, my non-profit organization (where I worked prior to Limestone) declared “work from home” due to COVID-19 concerns. I did not return to the office for five months, and I only saw my team in person one more time.
As we crest this hill, it feels like the most brutal year-long decade that we ever encountered. Seriously, does March of 2020 not seem like an eternity ago?
Psychological evidence suggest that our hearts and minds are feeling that. Numerous articles and studies indicate that we are tired, frustrated, angry, and even lashing out at one another because of this. The impact on college students is significant according to multiple studies.
If college is anything, it is an exercise in social interaction. Taking away a primary component of college life makes online classes and safety measures that much more challenging to endure.
What about the impact on faculty and staff? We strive to smile behind the mask, but we also fight back frustration with this lack of normalcy.
When we factor in the overall damage to ALL people in so many aspects of life, we have potentially volatile situations on college campuses. Our beloved University is no exception.
I started at my University on October 19, 2021. I have students that I still cannot recognize because I have never seen them without a mask. This is not anything close to “normal” campus life of sitting around the coffee shop or the student center or chatting on the Quad. This lack of activity sometimes looks more like summer break on campus than the last half of spring semester.
Let us also remember that we are now on the downhill side of the academic year. If you are like me, you are trying to wrap up the “To Do” list you created sometime in January. This University is a busy place and everyone—including students—is working hard and a little on the edge.
Yet, here we are, persevering and pressing on towards the goal. We are playing sports, having a Homecoming celebration and planning graduation. It is all the more stressful to do through a mask, but we are doing it.
No doubt the Complaint Box in every department is far more slammed than it is in normal circumstance. The pent-up frustrations of the last year are beginning to take their toll, and we are all prone to slide into a bad place in heart and mind. More than that, we are likely to take it out on someone else.
What do we need to push forward to the finish? Grace is the word.
The technical definition of the term “grace” takes on multiple components, many of which we can use right now.
a. unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.
b: a virtue coming from God.
c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance.
Yes, a bit of Divine Assistance is something that can help us all right now. But the definitions also take us to a place that requires our action with the support of that Divine Assistance.
d: disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.
e: a temporary exemption: REPRIEVE
How do we see our way through the remainder of this Pandemic Semester, which may (or may not) be our last such semester? We remember the virtue that is offered to us through power that is beyond ourselves. And we increase our efforts at kindness, courtesy, clemency, and even reprieve.
It is easy in a crisis such as this to display a lack of grace to others—and to ourselves. In our frustration, we could retreat into a state of bitter complaint against everyone and everything that gets on our nerves. It is a trap for any of us experiencing long-term and unexpected stress.
What if we instead decide to live out the word “Grace” in every aspect, whenever we have the opportunity? What if we take on an attitude of forgiveness and understanding that get us to the finish line of this semester—and perhaps back to something that looks like normal next spring?
As we commemorated this lockdown year March 12, 2021, we also reached the 1 million shot threshold on vaccine delivery. If we can hang on a little longer, keep wearing our masks, continue with safe practices, and contain our frustration, we may be nearing the finish line.
Now is the time to keep running the race towards that line, with an extra high dose of grace—both for others and for yourself! These are essentials in tense and stressful times.
Let us also remember that many have sacrificed far more during the past year than just social gatherings and sporting events, including people on this campus. We honor and respect those who have suffered loss this year by staying safe and pressing on towards the goal.
This is the very meaning of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” By learning to offer extra grace to all in the most difficult times, we can fully celebrate that grace together in the best of times.
If we can do that just a little while longer, then perhaps we can get to something that looks a lot more like “normal.”