My COVID Story

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.  – Steve Jobs

This week’s bulletin will be different from what I have written and shared with you over the past 50 weeks. First, what I share with you this week will reflect my personal thoughts and observations over the past year of the pandemic, second, there will be two attachments this week, and third, this will be the last bulletin I write. There is still a great deal of imagination and innovation I want to research and share with colleagues in the United States and around the world.

We have lived through a dark time. If you were lucky, you were merely numb from boredom. If you weren’t so lucky, you were taken ill with the virus, or worse lost a member of your family or a friend to COVID-19. As I write today more than three million people worldwide have succumbed to the ravages of this pandemic.

You’re on the earth. There’s no cure for that. – Samuel Beckett.

Over these past weeks I have tried to paint a picture with words of how a reimagined higher education world could function. I have attempted to divorce myself from marginal thinking and tried to prioritize what really matters in higher education and convey that to you each week.

I have tried to think from the end and let curiosity be my compass and imagination my north star. I hope I succeeded in urging you to think differently about what you do each day and why you do it. I hope the information in one of my bulletins urged you to creatively make your way out of the uncertainty the pandemic caused.

The late Harvard Professor, Clayton M. Christensen, wrote in How Will You Measure your Life?

In the next step, tomorrow arrives.

Below is an essay I wrote about my personal reflections of COVID-19. I hope you enjoy reading it. It is an honor to share it with you.

In his book, Think Again, the organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, wrote the following:

In ancient Greece, Plutarch wrote of a wooden ship that Theseus sailed from Crete to Athens. To preserve the ship, as its old planks decayed, Athenians would replace them with new wood. Eventually all of the planks had been replaced. It looked like the same ship, but none of its parts was the same. Was it still the same ship? Later, philosophers added a wrinkle: if you collected all of the original planks and fashioned them into a ship, would that be the same ship?

Will any of us, who have lived in this pandemic time, ever be the same after the chaos and confusion of COVID-19 no longer dictates our everyday lives?  Were there people who helped us when fear, isolation, and boredom overwhelmed our everyday existence?

In an Op-Ed in The New York Times on March 14,2021, the essayist and novelist, Leslie Jamison quoted Svetlana Boym, who wrote in her book, The Future of Nostalgia: Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s one fantasy.

We can never return to what was before COVID-19. That would mean honoring fantasies. Too much has happened. Memories of life lived in the days, weeks, and months of the pandemic are too embedded.

What is the new normal?  For each of us that will be different. But the replacement normal must include the memories of the countless number of lives lost and families shattered. We know that for most of us we are emotionally, psychologically, and perhaps even spiritually changed forever by this virus. We know that all of us are pilgrims who voyaged into unchartered waters.

We have all lived in the silence of inactivity, of time that refused to move and days that drifted one into another, often without any recognition. We have all lived the smallness and sameness of life dictated by the unpredictability and the mystery of the virus.

Maybe we read more books, or exercised more. Maybe we watched too much television or dipped into the bowls of comfort food too often. Maybe we regretted the loss of time squandered. Maybe we became numb by the trivial. Maybe we stopped wearing watches because there was no need to know the time because we had an indefinite period of time. Maybe our daily commute from one task to another was a short one.

Maybe we reached out to family and friends for no reason, just to re-connect. Maybe we got “zoomed” a bit too much but that was for many of us, the only way to re-connect.

Maybe we lost eye contact with life.

Yes, what we missed most was our connection to people, places, events, and celebrations.

Each person’s life is filled with memories, keepsakes, habits and traditions that we draw on for sustenance when times are tough. One of the things I did during this time was to collect words that signify longing: in German, sehnsucht, in Russian, toska, in Welsh, hiraerh. I learned that regardless of country or language, we all have a longing for that which is comforting and that which is familiar.

Few emotions are as unnerving as hope. But going forward hope is exactly what we must have. Hope that in the next weeks and months fewer people will get sick and succumb to COVID-19. Hope that more people will get vaccinated.

But my biggest hope is that we don’t forget the residuals left by the virus: to be kinder, more patient, better listeners, and more aware users of time. None of us know how much time is left. That may be the greatest gift of this virus.

Where next meets now.

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Beyond the caravan of this time lies the next.