Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the last three weeks have been going on for at least a year. In that short time we have gone from “Penn State is going remote for the rest of the month” to “Penn State will stay remote through spring semester” to this weekend’s announcement that Centre County is under a “stay at home” order. Covid-19 has gone from something that is in far away places to something that Tom Hanks is recovering from to something that has claimed the lives of people that I have admired (Terrence McNally and Joe Diffie, with John Prine likely to be next). The progression is frightening to say the least..
Every day we wake up to more bad news and new challenges (for example: where am I going to store all of my recyclables until curbside pickup resumes someday?). During times of great challenge, one learned skill towers over all the rest as being important right now: adaptability. We are in an unprecedented time right now, as our new normal evolves daily. Online law school seemed impossible only a month ago. Now we are doing it. Virtual happy hour was never a consideration before. Now it is the social event of the week. That meeting that could have been replaced by an email? It has been. Unnecessary items are no longer being purchased. Unnecessary trips are not being taken. Gasoline is cheaper that it has been for a long time, and nobody is driving their cars. Within a few weeks life as we know it has shifted dramatically. And we are DOING it!!!
With “I’ve always done it this way” removed as an option, we must replace “I can’t” with “How can I?” Creative juices are flowing for everyone as we explore new ways to do just about everything that used to involve person-to-person contact. As I work from home, everything I used to do with paper is being shifted to electronic versions (and the trees will thank me!) Senior citizens are learning online bill pay and mobile check deposit. Elementary school kids are learning online education. Parents are learning how to balance working from home while taking care of their kids. Sit-down restaurants are learning how to offer take-out and delivery efficiently. The reality that this is not a short-term scenario, and that we really are living in what often feels like a scary movie, has kicked in. And we are adapting. We are DOING it!
Life will continue to throw you curve balls, long after Covid-19 is a thing of the past. And you will have the most important skill to deal with them: adaptability. Most of life’s curve balls will NOT be life-altering historic events like the current one. But the skills you are learning from this will carry you through quite well. We are DOING it! WE ARE!!
When life becomes difficult, I often turn to one specific line from a Sheryl Crow song. “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got.”
This is time of great uncertainty. Not just at Penn State. Not just in the United States. This is a global time of not knowing what is next. And at times like this it is really easy to focus on the negative—all the things you can’t have or do. We can’t be in our law school building. We can’t hang out with friends. We can’t eat in restaurants or drink in bars. We can’t attend live music concerts or festivals (and many of you know this is my favorite thing to do!). We’re all going a little stir crazy. But changing the focus to the positive side can go a long way in uncertain times.
We are fortunate in so many ways. We can’t be in our law school building. But classes and services are still happening through the magic of technology that didn’t even exist not too long ago. We can’t hang out with our friends in person. But we can call. We can Facetime. We can Zoom. We can watch Netflix together. We can use the social networks (as a Gen-Xer I’ve favored Facebook as the best way to stay in touch with friends for a very long time). We can’t eat in restaurants or drink in bars. But we can buy groceries and take-out food (and beverage). And it’s a great opportunity to explore cooking as a hobby! We can’t attend live music concerts or festivals. This one hits me close to home. But there are a lot of recordings of concerts and festivals available to view and listen to. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to listen to shows on the Internet Archive that I wasn’t able to attend . And so many musicians are doing live performances from their living rooms right now! The reality is I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to ticket prices for canceled festivals being refunded to my credit card. Not-quite-quarantine is saving me a boatload of money!
We are, however, all going a little stir crazy. It’s important to practice some self-care at this time. Go for a walk or a run. Fire up the YouTube workout videos. It’s important to keep your body moving, even if you can’t really go anywhere. Eat healthy foods. Loading up on chips and chocolate to drown your sadness and fear will not help anything. Eat some protein and vegetables. That will actually make you feel better. Establish a routine. I’ve done everything I can to keep my remote work life as similar as possible to my on-campus work life. I built myself a little office in the corner of my guest room. That’s my daily 8 to 5 spot. I turn on the lava lamp on top of my desk (yes….I’m very much a hippie) to symbolize the start of the day. I turn it off when I finish working for the day. I (usually) take a shower before I start working. I get dressed. Not dress-up clothes—I’m not crazy! But something other than what I sleep in. These little steps make me feel more normal. In a time that is very much not normal. And I have to say, I’m liking it. I’m comfortable in my new routine, and a little bit of comfort goes a long way right now.
It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got. And right now I’m so amazingly grateful that I’ve got so much that I want.
Life has suddenly become very weird. There are certain things that happen in your lifetime that you know are history-making events. For many of you the first one you remember is 9/11/2001. For some of you it may be the unfortunate demise of the Space Shuttle Challenger. For me it was the resignation of Richard Nixon. I was a young girl and my family was visiting with friends. I remember wanting to play, but my father said I needed to watch this on TV because it was history. He was right and I am grateful. And now we are once again watching history unfold before our eyes.
We have arrived at a point in our world where everyone is making major sacrifices for the greater good. We are all being asked to take one for the team. It’s not an unusual concept. We do it all the time. A football lineman takes a hit to protect the quarterback. A basketball player intentionally fouls the other team to stop momentum. A family foregoes a vacation because a child needs braces. A student rents textbooks instead of buying so that extra money is available for dog food. I buy secondhand clothes for myself to better afford new for my husband. We have all at some point made a sacrifice to allow for others to have something.
We as a country have been asked to keep our distance from each other. Penn State is venturing into a world where not only are all classes being taught remotely, but all major services are also being offered from a distance. And we are very fortunate to be in a good position to be able to do so. The technology we have available to us is going to make this much easier that it would have been only 10 or 15 years ago. It’s very strange to be swapping in-person contacts for phone calls, emails, and Zoom meetings. But life has sent us a curve ball. And we all need to take one for the team.
There are a lot of things we don’t know right now. Including how long our new social distancing lifestyle will last. But we should focus on the things we do know. Your Penn State Law faculty and staff are still here for you. We may not be in the building that is our home away from home, but we are here for you. The quality of education that brought you to Penn State will continue. That familial feel our community prides itself on is still here. I am embracing the opportunity to employ new (to me) technologies that will improve my services for the long term, not just for the duration of this weird time in life. And I’m not heart-broken that every day is casual Friday and I can have my cat on my lap while I work now. I’m trying to keep myself focused on the positive things and the things I actually can control. We are all in this together (from a distance), taking one for the team. We can do this. Because WE ARE! And someday I hope we can look back on this time and think, “Wow, that was a huge overreaction!” And that’s how we’ll know it worked.