Walking through the school halls, one is bound to hear a favorite game among students, who got the least sleep: was the winner four hours? Three? In this not-so-fun competition, no one emerges victorious, and everyone is still exhausted; the fact that a peer got an hour less sleep does not eradicate your own exhaustion (unfortunately).
Just as in a school full of sleep-deprived students, no one’s exhaustion is negligible, in a world experiencing the global COVID-19 crisis, no individual’s struggles are invalid. School closures, reduced food and medical service access and employment changes plague everyone of us to varying degrees as we adjust to what is quickly becoming our new, if temporary, state of normalcy.
In this uncertain time, it is instinctive to resort to feelings of self-pity and equally intuitive to ignore our own feelings, knowing that many have been dealt a worse hand. It is imperative that we recognize that these responses are not mutually exclusive. Rather, accepting our own struggles while broadening our lenses to consider more drastic issues should be accomplished hand-in-hand.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of Newton students are relatively “okay:” most are healthy and financially stable. Unfortunately, it is easy to allow this majority experience to obstruct our view of the serious financial, mental and physical harm COVID-19 is causing to millions. Those in comfortable positions must open their eyes to those within and beyond their communities who are not faring well. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that the only people who need our love and support live across the world. They’re not; they’re in our backyards.
In Newton alone, food pantries have seen three times the demand though they have just a third of their regular workforce, suggesting a growing struggle in financial and food insecurity. Further, community members are at increased risk of contracting the disease due to preexisting respiratory illnesses, compromised immune systems and jobs both that have been deemed nonessential and that force them to leave home daily.
The aforementioned concrete challenges — illness, unemployment and food insecurity to name a few — have far-reaching impacts, impairing the student body’s ability to learn. A student in a financially unstable home or who has at-risk family members is unable to engage with learning in earnest. Other students, such as English language learners and those with IEPs and 504 plans, face additional, less visible barriers in their distance learning. Newton Public Schools has made an admirable effort to ensure that when structured learning becomes available, it is available to everyone. It remains to be seen, however, whether Newton’s prolonged transition to distance learning will prove to be effective, inclusive and equitable toward all learners.
For those able to self-quarantine, maintain a steady income and stockpile food, recognize it as the privilege that it is. Don’t assume that your neighbor’s situation is analogous to your own, for we each experience the quarantine differently. Rather than allow their struggles to remain stigmatized, support your neighbors in fulfilling their new (and old) needs in this unprecedented time in a dignified manner. While appreciating your privilege, search for ways to share it, perhaps check in with that ill distant cousin or that elderly neighbor who lives alone, or offer to virtually babysit or deliver groceries. Rescheduling your canceled vacation can wait.
Many of us are finding ourselves with an unprecedented abundance of time to peruse social media — use it for good. We should all take our cue from the Class of 2020 Facebook group, which has bonded over childhood memories, recipes and rejection letters. Look at the Newton Neighbors Helping Newton Neighbors Facebook page as a model of a community supporting one another with everything from grocery pickups to mask-making to jokes.
Reminders to stay home and maintain social distance are important but can’t have as great an impact as personal messages and offers to help or even to talk. While it might be a welcome distraction to draw a strawberry, avoid posts about how dire your struggles are or how much you’re enjoying prolonged “spring break” without recognizing the struggles of others. Take that two seconds to think whether your posts will isolate or unite those around you.
With this sense of perspective, acknowledge and validate your own feelings and the unique struggles that you are experiencing. An empty bucket cannot pour: take care of yourself and then do your best to help others.
Minimizing one’s experience does not help remedy another’s. Rather, hold both your reality and the reality of others in tandem. Be upset about that SAT or concert cancellation and also understand more severe situations. The two should not fight for the spotlight in your mind or emotions.
For those in positions to do so, use your new perspective to rally support around all members of our school, city and world — yourself included — and particularly the most vulnerable.
The Lion’s Roar, founded in 1984, is the student newspaper of Newton South High School, acting as a public forum for student views and attitudes.
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