Someone asked me today what I am most concerned about for the September return.
I said something similar, “So many people are already dealing with so many uncertainties at the same time.” I support it.
I have often mentioned before that when people say they want transparency, what they really want is certainty. When they become transparent about uncertain situations, they don’t like it. Uncertainty can bring pressure.
In this case, the source of uncertainty is obvious. On Monday, the girl asked me if I thought her school would be remote again next month. I don’t think it will, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it mandates wearing masks. But I was shocked, she asked. She is usually very composed; it must be bad for her to care so much. She is dealing with some things.
Next month, we will allow students, faculty and staff who have been away from home for a year and a half to return. I suspect—and I hope to be wrong on this point—some of the pressure people feel is largely hidden from staying at home. When they come to campus, even for part of the week, some of these hidden struggles may become obvious. When some people are not in their best condition, they may trigger unhelpful reactions among others, whose fuse is uncharacteristically short after being so isolated and under so much pressure.
Strains come from many sources, most of which we cannot solve directly. There are obvious concerns about the Delta variant. Some people have lost family or friends. Other people are dealing with or important others are dealing with long-term symptoms. Social connections have taken a hit, which is especially difficult for young people who desire to be with each other. Work conditions are often volatile. We have reported that drug abuse and anxiety surged during the pandemic; in some cases, the former was partly to manage the latter. Students with special needs may be particularly affected because the services they rely on may have diminished.
Then, of course, there are strains of the virus itself. There is no guarantee that Delta will be the last variant no matter how it runs. As far as I know—I am happy to obey those who know more about viruses than I do—the longer the virus spreads, the more people it infects, and the greater the chance of new mutations generating and replicating. This makes it more difficult to plan with confidence: even if our current agreements are now good enough, something may happen within a month or a few months that makes them invalid. Yes, we know how to switch to remote operations better than we did a year and a half ago, but the morale impact this second time could be cruel.
There are many uncertainties at a time.
In situations of uncertainty, we may best rely on what we know. We know that our decent treatment of each other can go a long way. We know that no one is superman, we all need to spend some time sometimes. We know that many, many people have scars, most of which are invisible to us. We know that we can choose to make these scars worse or help them heal.
Healing is a choice we must make over and over again, even if we don’t like it. I hope we have the strength to continue to make this choice.