I got an incredible response to my dispatch on Wednesday from a young woman I’d never met before, Hannah Parrott, 20-years-old of Amherst, Mass. I asked her if I could pass it along to you all. And with Hannah as our model and inspiration, I put it to you: in this moment, when so many of our questions are scientific and logistical, what are the deeper questions you’re asking?
But first, from Hannah:
“Today my college declared that we would be starting remote classes. Some small private colleges nearby and elsewhere in my state (which declared itself in a state of emergency late last night) did so a day before and for a little while my public university was just waiting, watching the news first with bemusement, then curiosity and wonder, then shock and spurts of chaos interspersed with surprise. I'd like to say that we're acting with sanity and love even if we're surprised by this spontaneity. Even the international students, who have it the worst, seem relatively sane. We're ok. And as far as we can tell, though we're plagued with colds and exhaustion brought about by midterms, no one is sick yet. This is all something to be grateful for, I know.
But the reality is that we had plans for this semester, dreams, works in progress that will probably not be fulfilled this spring or maybe not ever. The seniors were going to graduate. I was going to switch majors from a hard science field that was more comforting than anything else to embrace the potential of a new field I had begun to love and is exceptional at my public university. There were new things I wanted to sink more time into: contra dancing, a satirical newspaper, a subset of this new field that I wanted to talk more about with professors until maybe I could find some independent studying to do. There were people I wanted to get to know better, a person I needed to sit down and talk with so that we could learn how to transition our friendship. Hell, there were still laboratory classes I still needed to complete.
One could say that this will all work out. That I'll have the conversations I need to have. That things will start up where they left off in the fall. But I don't think I'm that naive. We are uprooting ourselves and our communities so things will change. I know that those changes might result in beautiful things, but they also result in new things. That by itself isn't good or bad. The bad bits of this situation are the suffering that those who are vulnerable might face and the suffering that those who love those who might be hurt by this virus, by this recession, by this point in time, might face.
I need to give myself the chance to stand back and acknowledge that this is not the life we expected. I think about what my parents, currently forty-six, experienced at my age. As kids they worked hard and got into nice private colleges with scholarships. They got married, went to grad school, had kids, and sure it was a juggling act, but looking back beyond the human error, it was kind of simple. When it was my turn, no matter how hard I worked or how low the acceptance rate of the college I got into was, I had to consider a different world- one where six figures of undergraduate loans would follow me, one where climate change was sure to impact my life, one where a student loan crash was imminent and so was so many forms of disaster. The world had changed.
Today, with an official pandemic, it has changed again. And tomorrow it will and the next day too. Over and over I am learning how to give up this illusion of control and each time I'm beginning to find a little more peace within myself. It feels like my generation has spent our childhood waiting. Waiting for the disasters to start, for the consequences of globalization to catch up with us, wealth inequality, sexism, racism, and climate change. Now disaster is knocking at our door and we're sitting on the floor of our dorm rooms with our things packed up, willing to face what will come this time, willing to face what will come next time. We aren't panicking. We aren't crying. But I wonder is this how it will always be?”