Regardless of the Instagram challenges, the extra time on my hands, or the ways I’ve maintained contact with my friends over quarantine, sometimes the days just feel empty. And sometimes things just fall into a static haze where I can feel the reins slip away from my hold on time and I look up and the clock has moved without me. As time goes by, keeping track of the days of the week seems more and more arbitrary, and I wake up for school sometimes on Thursdays wondering if it’s Monday after a weekend. This is normal, and this hazy sense of “meh” is something that I am confident we all share. This is a strange crisis unraveling in slow motion, and it feels uncomfortable because nothing seems to have changed yet everything has.
For most of us, quarantine is a strange added burden but not a catastrophe. My mother can still work because we have internet, her company (a pharmaceutical) can provide masks, and she can choose to Zoom from home or drive to work. This is not the case for the 78% of Americans that live paycheck to paycheck, of whom pitifully few are counted among the students at BC High and for whom the quarantine may be the difference between their child going to college or not. This is a virus that has exposed deeply rooted racial injustice and the weakness of systems designed to protect us. When we look at all those people living paycheck-to-paycheck, we have comforted ourselves that they can make it out okay. If we hear them say this month’s rent will be a challenge because the fridge broke again, we cross our fingers and hope they’ll be alright. These times challenge that presumption.
But we’re in this together, after all. The core of our humanity lies in the fact that we suffer as a pack with other people, and no one expects us to save the world by blaming ourselves for being on a safer starting spot than other people. I think it’s important to recognize where privilege figures into our lives, but it is also important to keep in mind that we are not defined by privilege, and when people get angry because it seems the news cycle constantly blames them for being privileged, perhaps this is a misunderstanding of what the world is asking of them. Of us. What we can do is listen; listen to the people scraping to get by, to stand in solidarity with them, and to see what their world is like. Let’s embrace how human we are, and how human they are, and get a better sense of who we talk about when we use the word “we.” That is something a hundred times more important than a few dollars shucked off the vacation budget for charity. Occasionally, the best we can do is to listen and to love others.
Sometimes the best we can do is take care of ourselves. I go on runs now, and I try as hard as I can to make it outside every day. I talk to my friends online every day, and I try to make time for myself to exercise, sleep, and do things that interest me, no matter how ridiculous or random. When so many of our goals have been put off, from sports seasons to standardized tests to vacations, it seems more important to find meaning in doing small things, from gathering flowers on Mother’s Day to learning how to pick locks (it’s harder than you think, unless you are unlike me and have patience). Now is a time when we get to decide what is meaningful to us. If you found the energy to start your passion project and are already halfway to curing world hunger, more power to you. But don’t listen to anyone who thinks that what is meaningful must be some mass undertaking: they’re wrong. Try to listen to what you need, and you will find that some days you will do something amazing, and some days you can be perfectly happy just putting up curtains. It is not a competition. Challenge yourself, not other people. You will end up much more fulfilled and much more knowledgeable about who you are.
This is a time where many of us are figuring out what being human means and what we perhaps didn’t know before. Our high school has been compared to as a conveyor belt, where the pace of life is uncompromising and every test, season, semester, or award is an uncompromising slingshot towards our final destination: venture capitalist retired in Tahiti or, if you watched too many Indiana Jones movies as a kid like I did, globetrotting adventurer/researcher. Well, the conveyor belt has stopped, and now we’ve found ourselves stuck. My application to a summer program was denied yesterday, and now my summer is as empty as yours. Except we’re not stuck, because we have each other. We are more than what our narrow view of the world allows us to see. We don’t need all the trinkets to create beauty or glory or fulfillment. I’m not passing up that scholarship, but right now is a time to look away from those things. You have more than those things. What do you have? What do you have right now? If you’re stuck, ask a friend. Take the time to find the people that will remind you of how fulfilling you are, even when you can’t fulfill your own goals because of quarantine. Hold tight to the people you love, and remind them of how much you love them. It’s hard for all of us, as guys, to do this effectively. I understand this. I love you.
And last but not least, remember that you are a human stuck with other humans. As much as you may fight with them or love them, they are just as human as you. Take the time to listen, to others and yourself, and find balance whenever you can. Try new things. Be bold. Go skydiving (you go first). Write a novel. Spot clouds. Spend an hour talking about nothing with people you love. Be human.