The first time I learned about tragedy was in my high school English Lit class when I was 16 and the book that introduced me to that term was ‘Death of a Salesman’ by Arthur Miller. Old Willy Loman believing he was worth more dead than alive to save his family is the beautiful pseudo metaphor that plays out in so many different ways in real life.
Tragedy by definition is taking the loss of a life in order to change the course of a journey. It propels one to examine the value of a life and the extremes that may exist and if one dares to reach them.
To believe we are not experiencing that today would be considered foolish. A single invisible organism has done away with more than 3,000,000 lives on the planet in the span of about 7 months. Each of them made part of a family, was a sister, a mother, a brother, a son, a cousin, a provider, a friend, whom for some is the same as family. And each one of those lives are the definition of tragedy.
In America, it’s taking a virus to clear up the fogged lenses some have about the state of education and wellness.
In America, it’s taking a virus to uncover how some feel about other people’s lives over their own prosperity.
In America, it’s taking a virus to further expose the disparities between races and their inherited poverty.
In America, it’s taking a virus to obligate us to focus, tragically on what really matters.
As I stand on a line to get examined for antibodies, I can’t stop but think not so much on how this has turned my life upside down, I think about when we arrive to a new normal, what will it look like?
Thinking ahead has served me well in my profession and so I have long allowed it to make part of my DNA
What will we learn from this tragedy after we have experienced physical isolation for so long, after we have radically experienced ‘no contact’, which could only add to human mistrust?
What can we learn from this tragedy while time passes by without our consent, how dare it! and each day melts into the next. These past 42 days has reintroduced the topic of incarceration and solitary confinement to my woes and empathy is all I can feel. And then my thoughts take me to the demographic breakdown of the incarcerated and rage is what I feel.
I step into the clinic and the masked healthcare worker announces that the visit is $200 if you do not have insurance… $200 in a time when unemployment applications have hit an all-time high, can we say ‘The Great Depression of the 21st Century’? $200 in a time when farmers are euthanizing their livestock and discarding their crops but all I can think is ‘I am so lucky I have insurance’, while the man 6 feet away from me states in Spanish, he’s in a shelter and only has Medicaid, realizes he cannot get tested and leaves.
My mind goes to my students whom I haven’t seen in 36 days and I think, I miss them. I normally postpone that feeling for the end of June but not this year. This year, this virus has bound me to their realities, confront the inaccessibility’s many have to the technologies some take for granted and come to terms with the fact that they are the casualties of their parents choices and limitations and I practice compassion. While others experience time pass by in their backyards, their basements, their attics, spare rooms, tree lined neighborhoods, many of my students pass their time in cramped apartments, some in projects and some not, with thin walls and light floors, without personal space yet with siblings, extended family members that may be compassionate or not. Some may have food every day and some may not, some may be the caretakers in their homes and some hopefully still are allowed to be adolescent.
My kids, as I sometimes refer to them, realities may read as tragic but like all tragedies, they do not last. This too shall pass and I want to believe they will be stronger for it. I too, grew up in a cramped apartment with no personal space, throwing a mattress on the floor every night and having to share the bathroom with extended family members as well as paying tenants that helped make ends meet. This and more were a part of my reality and my perspective at the time was not tragic, it was just plainly my life and I survived just as they can and will.
And I take a deep breathe….
It’s taking this virus to reimagine a better future for learning and healthcare and what it will take to make that happen; no longer should profit take priority over human life.
It’s taking the virus to rethink and restructure the status quo and learn to choose leaders that deliver because their track records show they serve the public and not themselves.
And when all of this is over, living in our new normal, let’s remember this and learn from it…
because it shouldn’t take a tragedy to place things in perspective.