As most of you already know, I work full time as a director of an alternative high school. Our Spring Semester just ended with over half of the semester being conducted through remote learning. While my main job is running the program, I also teach a creative writing class. One of the projects I assigned my students during quarantine was to read an excerpt from Anne Frank's book, Tales from the Secret Annex, which is a collection of her writings while she was in hiding during the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands.
The purpose of this assignment was for my students to not only see similarities between quarantine and Anne Frank's experiences in hiding during the Holocaust, but to notice through her writing how even in the midst of crisis the human condition forever remains.
For example, this is part of the excerpt I shared with my class:
Do you remember? I've spent many a delightful hour talking about school, teachers, adventures and boys. Back when our lives were still normal, everything was so wonderful. That one year of Lyceum was heaven to me: the teachers, the things I learned, the jokes, the prestige, the crushes, the admirers.
Anne Frank goes on to recount stories of her times at school, interactions with specific students, her feelings of admiration toward boys in her class, and how she longed to be in a classroom among others again. I wanted my students to see that although our experiences with quarantine are not exactly the same as Anne Frank's hiding during the Holocaust, that even when in crisis, people still think about simpler things.
We remember our crushes, the jokes we played on others, the ways we interacted with our friends, how others made us feel, how we made others feel, and the smaller, more intricate moments of our daily lives.
Humans, by nature, are introspective beings who want to feel and be connected to something. No matter what the circumstances may be, we will always be searching for the human thread throughout any experience. We'll forever be drawn to the underlying love.
These days I find myself thinking about things I would have never imagined focusing on when in a pandemic:
Am I spending too much time being?
Am I not writing enough?
Am I going to look back at this time and think I wasted it?
Am I going to wish that I enjoyed the solitude more?
How can I best use this time going forward?
Should I have worked harder at my job this year?
Will I have the patience to return to my old life when this has passed?
How can I better live my life going forward?
What do I want to make more time for?
What do I need to let go of?
Can I return to my old life with the same presence I had before?
How has this experience changed me?
These are the deeper, more analytical questions that run through my brain every day. They don't consume all of my energy, but they're always sitting in the background of my mind waiting to interrogate me. I don't mind it though - I've always been somewhat obsessive with reflecting on my life and the decisions I've made. Even now, when the world has been brought to a halt, these questions dig themselves deeper within me.
What I've realized through all of this is that I always told myself, If only I had the time, I would...
And now that I have that time, I still spend it doing mindless things. I see that even though I essentially have what I always wanted, (more time to write) I'm still feeling dissatisfied in the same areas of my life. If and when I return to the normal flow of my life, I won't allow myself to believe that I'll be happier if things were a specific way, because the truth is, most of what we feel now will be carried over into new circumstances.
This is life. This is being human. This is all part of the experience. And that'sokay.
Life will always bring us the unexpected. We will always battle change. We will conquer what we once thought would kill us. And we'll forever rise to the occasion.
We like to believe that we'll be different, that life will be different, if only things were suited to our liking and preferences, but the truth is, this is it. We're going to deal with more challenging times, some maybe even more challenging than a global pandemic, and even in those circumstances, we'll still be thinking our human thoughts and going about life in our humanly ways.
This moment is it. It's not about tomorrow, the end of quarantine, when we find a vaccine, or the possibilities of our futures. Focus on the present and how you want to spend this moment. What energy will you live your life from?
If you continue believing that life will be different if only you had more time for what you wanted or if things were rearranged in your favor, then you're missing the opportunity that's presenting itself to you now.
What is that opportunity?
That's what you make of it.