Geoff Johnson: What a wonderful world

With COVID-19 changing everything, or so it seems, here is something different: A letter from a U.S. teacher to her students, which came to me through a friend’s grandchildren. Enjoy.

To my dear AP English students,

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I wanted to contact you and tell you that I have been thinking about you and your families this past week. The first two days were kind of a novelty-like snow days without snow. The weather was beautiful, the daffodils and cherry trees were blooming, and things were coming back to life after a long, dreary winter.

When we got the call Wednesday and then Thursday about school closing, the novelty gave way to anxiety and worry. How long will this last? Will my students be OK? Will my elderly parents weather this virus? Everything seems even more amplified now. If you switch on the television, you might think the world is ending.

But, it isn’t.

One of the interesting things about getting older is that I have seen a lot of different things come and go. I haven’t seen as much as my grandfather — who was born into the Greatest Generation and saw so much tragedy on a global scale in his lifetime. However, I am a history nerd and I know that what we are experiencing is not completely unprecedented, historically.

What is unprecedented is the 24/7 news and social-media coverage of what they are now calling a “pandemic.”

Words really do matter, and I guess that the word “pandemic” is accurate — though I find it fear inducing and not necessarily helpful in quelling anxiety or helping people remain calm. It is an interesting word and when I first heard it, I thought of Pan — the Greek god of shepherds and flocks, woods and fields. “Pan” also means bread in Spanish. My mind wandered to the thought, if only “pandemic” meant “bread for all.”

Of course, “pandemic” is more sinister that either of those — an epidemic disease that has spread to “all,” the Latin root of the word. What is happening is terrible on a global scale.

So why I am writing to you this discourse about the word “pandemic”? Well, as you know, because I have been your teacher since August, I am a word geek who thinks very philosophically about things and can go down rabbit holes with that kind of thinking on a regular basis.

But, it is mainly because I miss teaching you and seeing you and talking to you about everything that is going on in the world right now, seeing your faces to see if you are OK and gauging your emotions to see how you are processing all of this.

When I was looking at social media yesterday, I saw a post by a young man that I thought I would share with you. He said: “I imagine all the closures and cancellations give people a sense of ominousness. But it’s really an amazing act of social solidarity: We’re sacrificing so we can give nurses, doctor and hospitals a fighting chance. Start from there and hopefully, we can figure out the rest.”

I thought that was a wonderful way to think positively about our current situation.

One of the best things about “all” of us in this together, is that we are “all” in it together! We can look out for one another and take care of one another until the virus (I feel like if I say the actual name, it is like summoning Voldemort or something …) settles down and runs its course.

Because it will run its course.

Because this will be over at some point.

So … in the meantime, we have extra time! Extra time to spend with family. Extra time to sleep. Extra time to read. Extra time to play games. Extra time to enjoy the beautiful spring weather that I am sure is just around the corner. Extra time to help others in need. Although isolation is not always fun, extra time is a tremendous gift!

So, even though for now, school and sports and public events have been cancelled, there are lots of things that are not cancelled!

Music is not cancelled!

Dancing is not cancelled!

Movies (at home) are not cancelled!

Conversations and discussions are not cancelled!

Reading is not cancelled!

Friendships are not cancelled!

Love is not cancelled!

Hope is not cancelled!

What we must cancel are fear, mass hysteria, too much screen time reading about the Virus that Should Not be Named, and the hoarding of toilet paper just to mention a few.

I hope you know that I am thinking of all of you during this time. I miss all of you and hope that you and your families are healthy and well.

I can’t wait to see you soon and get back to teaching you that “intricately patterned” masterpiece, my favourite novel in the entire world, The Great Gatsby. It truly is a wonder of a novel.

And, each of you is a “wonder,” and you are precious to me and so many others.

So, be safe, be reasonable and be kind.

And, lastly, WASH YOUR HANDS!

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