By Mahalia Gaff
Fourteen days ago, March 11th, I heard a rumor that my school might close for a couple of weeks.
No, no way, I thought to myself. I can be so irrational, so I have to talk myself down when I hear rumors or conspiracies or pretty much anything these days.
An e-mail: With no confirmed cases in the area, Bethel was taking no action.
Relieved, I went to bed entirely confident that even though the world was changing so quickly around me, my world would not, could not, be touched by a virus that was supposed to be so far away…
Thirteen days ago, March 12th, after my classes, my last in-person classes of sophomore year, I entered a daze that I have still yet to leave. Walking back to my room the world suddenly began to feel like it was spinning differently. My reaction to change is almost always dramatic, so allow me to make this as rational and calm as possible.
This is how my experience with COVID-19 began…
I could feel the spirit on campus that afternoon just beginning to change. Although the buds of trees were still beginning to pop, and the snow was leaving, everything else began to
and then suddenly:
Sitting on my floor, my room full of people, begging it to not come true. Begging a disease that I knew relatively nothing of, and which was not supposed to affect me, to keep its grasp from finding me.
Another e-mail: Face-to-face classes were cancelled until April 14th.
Okay. Bethel caved. The last school within hundreds of miles. I was annoyed and angry. I was overwhelmed and blindsided. Less than 24 hours prior to that, I went to bed peacefully believing that nothing was going to change. That things couldn’t possibly change that fast…
My emotions began to change over the next couple of days as friends left to go home, though we were technically still able to stay. I planted my feet firmly in Bethel’s soil, and through many phone calls and much internal conflict, I opted to stay behind. I wouldn’t leave unless I was kicked out or forced to go by some government mandate—and I remember saying those exact words aloud. I was in this for the long haul, I was committed to my job as an RA, to my institution, and to the seven and a half more weeks that I was supposed to have on my campus, in my home. I spoke excitedly of the adventures we, those of us who stayed, could have, the places we could go. To friends who had left, I excitedly exclaimed, we’ll come visit you, and on the way, we’ll go here, and we can do this, and, and, and. And there was hope. This will be fun, we all let ourselves think. This will be different, but we will adapt, and we will still have fun.
Those of us who did choose to stay, lived in peaceful ignorance and oblivion for an entire week. We spent so much time together, eating our meals closely together in the dining commons with two round tables and fourteen or so chairs shoved at every end. This was our place, this was our campus, this was our home. As we spoke and laughed and obnoxiously spent hours every day in there, together, without saying it, we began to believe that we could do this. We would have each other to rely on and lean on in times of uncertainty. And we would have our meals together, every day, in the midst of adjusting to online classes full time, and people still leaving, we were here, and we were whole.
But somewhere into that week, the CDCs new regulations mustered words like “social distancing, remain six feet apart” and “no gatherings of more than 10 people…” but we heard these things in barely a whisper. Silenced by the jokes we still loudly shouted at our round tables. Restaurants all closed, but we still lived in our ignorance—or perhaps our deliberate denial? Either way, we were comfortable, or at least pretending to be. The unsureness I am writing here is because of this: during all of this time, there wasn’t a way or a means of processing. The minute you adjusted to a new “normal,” or accepted something for the way that it was and was becoming, it changed. It felt like being cast into the middle of rigid seas and only staying above the water long enough to be thrust under again, and again, and again.
I began to become wary of trust,
but not in anyone or anything specifically,
but rather in the reliability of life itself.
I am so trusting of this world, of people, of life.
Trusting that tomorrow will come,
though I am the first to utter that “tomorrow isn’t promised.”
This is a part of the inner turmoil that I often experience.
Knowing the world is broken,
that humanity is evil,
and that tomorrow isn’t definitive,
still living as though I only see
and the sunrise after every sunset.
Suddenly, the dining commons closed, and to-go boxes became our new plates. Something else stolen, and not just the variety in our meal choices, but rather, our community, each other. And to replace it: a distance that we were only beginning to realize we were going to have to create but were all silently refusing to. Each believing in our invincibility. We will be fine, you guys. If we have it, we have it and we’ve already given it to each other. What difference does any of this make?
Next were the libraries,
the other food options,
anywhere to study or
spend time together.
All non-essential employees were ordered
to work from home and
McKinley and Logan began to get a lot
quieter outside of my bedroom window.
More people left,
so few of us remained.
Until our governor said no more
and we were all on our way.
More emails, but does it even matter what they say?
Do we even have another day?
It’s all been stolen, taken without consent.
A disease I’ve nicknamed “Rona” because I don’t know how else to vent.
I thought I had more time.
I genuinely did.
And now I feel played by life itself,
for trusting in something that doesn’t even exist—
An illusion, a framework, a joke.
I’m not engaging in pessimism,
But I am hurt and frustrated that I trust more in myself
and man-made ideas,
than a God who has shown me and declared over me,
that tomorrow will take care of itself.
Yet I still try to live there, in a tomorrow that doesn’t exist.
Wanting to believe that my life is it,
that if eternity doesn’t exist,
I must keep breathing,
because I’m terrified to not exist.
But here’s the thing: I do know that eternity exists. Every fiber in my being believes that. Yet, a paradox of faith is that doubt will exist, and so will fear and pain and even guilt because we are human and in this life we can never be fully separated from these very human emotions.
I feel guilty that the things I was most frustrated with,
when this all began,
were that I lost time to hang out with my friends,
I lost my schedule,
I lost the conveniences of my freedom,
when so many others, that I didn’t even realize,
were losing their neighbors,
their loved ones,
I’m home now. After so many unknowns and back and forths. Days I spent not knowing where I would be sleeping the next night. Mornings awoken to a silent dorm and less and less carry-out hours in the dining commons.
Loss after loss after loss,
but still: life.
Still: I exist.
Still: I breathe.
I’m struggling to not be bitter or discontent.
I’m struggling to not grow frustrated with online classes.
I’m praying for strength to love my family well during this time.
I’m hoping for a summer, a job, a fall semester—
things that are planned in a future that is not promised.
And I am trying to believe
that even though tomorrow’s sunrise is not a guarantee,
the sun, right now,
even if behind clouds,
and it is still bringing spring.
Those buds are still protruding,
growing as if tomorrow will come,
and even if it does not,
that is how I, too, must exist in this:
to continue to breathe and grow in today.
Lord, let that be enough.
Let what You have given be enough.
Let You be enough.
To all the only children,
That don’t feel like homes—
To all those in distant marriages,
Those with far off siblings,
That sleep in the same house,
Built of walls that feel suffocating—
My prayer is for you.
That for all of the things separating us right now,
Corona’s one gift might be that we are stuck together.
So, for whoever you’re with,
For whoever you have lost,
My heart reaches to yours,
Because Rona doesn’t win,
And Love already has.