“Had a death call..Possible COVID..Great” – that was the first text I received from my husband this morning as he started his shift as an officer with London Police. My mind immediately went in two directions – Who was it? How old? How is the family? . . . The other direction was . . . “What if we get this? My daughter is really sick with mono, my husband and son suffer from asthma . . I am freaked out.”
I am the manager in the Undergraduate Services Office in Engineering. I am working from home trying to supervise a team of employees and attempting to support students, answer questions, attend regular meetings, keep up with student Zoom appointments, trying to home school two elementary school-aged kids, trying to keep the house quiet so my husband can sleep off the night shift, and trying to navigate unknown territory.
Here are my thoughts . . . We learn a lot more during difficult times than we do when things are easy or straight forward. When I was the age many of you are now I worked at a camp for kids with cancer and I volunteered in palliative care at the LHSC. Many people thought I was crazy to expose myself willingly to suffering and death, and maybe I was, but I learned more about how to live life by experiencing loss and death. Ever since, I have had a perspective on life that is strong and unshakable. I choose laughter, compassion, and kindness as often as possible. I hug freely; I tell people I love them and I have an almost child-like excitement for simple things in life that give me joy. I feel deep gratitude for the privilege of my life and my health – I remind myself when I am feeling self-pity that I get to see the sun set, I get to hear that song that speaks to my soul, I get to dance, laugh and love. That is always a blessing and, so long as I breath, no hardship can take those things from me.
I am so impressed with how all of you are responding at the moment. Almost every email I receive from a student starts with kindness, asking about my family and wishing me health. You have been adaptable, responsible and many of you have looked to ways that you can help others by delivering groceries etc. I have seen more resilience at this difficult time, than I have at any time in my many years working at Western.
Carry this with you. Just as I carry with me those friends and campers that I lost so many years ago now. This is a gift of perspective.
- None of us is the centre of the universe and we are all in this together (students, faculty, staff)
- Challenge is opportunity and the best chance to learn
- Suffering and hardship makes joy and pleasure all the more intense and allows us to find joy and pleasure in simple things that we used to take for granted
- Oh yes – and for next year – write your midterms, quizzes and tests!!!! Putting things off never makes things better in the long run
- And with the previous bullet – it is ok to be crappy – but do things anyway. If you can learn to accept that you don’t need to be “at your best” and that most of the time less than ideal is as good as it gets, you will struggle a lot less with just forging forward and getting things done. Done is better than perfect, because perfect never happens
So, when the weight of everything starts to force its way into my mind. When I start to feel anxious, fearful, sad, worried, ineffective, . . .
I . . .
- Allow the feelings to come, so that they can move through me and move on – this is better than pushing them down and trying to pretend they are not there
- Shift my perspective from worry to gratitude. What are the things that I am thankful for? What are the ways that I am blessed right now?
- Find a distraction – like going for a run, watching a funny video of happy dogs doing stupid things, listen to my favorite music, whatever it is that can be a quick and healthy fix to get you through the moment
- Allow myself to be less than ideal and accept that for now, maybe, this IS my best
As difficult as things may be right now I am really proud of us as individuals and as an institution. I feel so much gratitude for our senior leadership, for our faculty members, for my colleagues, and for all of you. Every one of us has other things that we are coping with, yet we have come together as a community to muddle through this as best we can, driven by compassion, determination, and creativity.
I am sending you lots of good wishes as you find your way through your final assessments and finish up this unbelievable term. My hope is not that we will go back to how things were, but that things will never be the same.
If you are struggling, please reach out. We are still “here” to support you and are doing virtual appointments.
I will finish by sharing my “go to” song that makes me feel like nothing hard is permanent. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFl7DhdGGzo
Nothing gives easy
Easy gives nothing
I’m just tryin’ a keep
Income coming in
Dawn is bound to break
When the night is done
Always darker days before brighter ones
Everyone here is ready to go
It’s been a hard year with nothing to show
From down this road
It’s only on we go, on we go
Everyone here is ready to go
It’s been a hard year, and I only know
From down this low
It’s only up we go, up we go
Take good care of yourselves and each other.