Do you remember the moment the COVID pandemic became real to you?
Juniors and seniors at the school where I work were preparing for their trip to Washington DC. It was Tori's senior year and I had been invited to accompany the group. Tim and I had just returned from a trip to the National Broadcasters Convention (in Nashville) and it was clear that the virus was worrying people. I figured the kids' trip would be canceled... in fact I was hoping it would be.
It wasn't. We went to DC as planned, swinging through Hershey and Amish country on the way back north, but with the border threatening to close and the strong recommendation for all residents of Canada to return immediately and observe a strict 14 quarantine, the trip was cut short.
THAT was the moment I realized life as we knew it had changed, at least for the immediate future. A year later, that still appears to be the case.
The day after our return to Quebec City, schools closed, eventually transitioning to online education. Mid-May, primary schools reopened giving families of elementary students the choice of sending their kids back to school following strict health and security protocols or continuing online education from home.
Test positivity rates, case counts, hospitalizations and mortality decreased and over the summer, life seemed almost... normal. We met outdoors in a park for church and explored the north coast of the St. Lawrence River and Gulf, camping a stone's throw away from Point des Monts Lighthouse. While it was a lovely break, we were, unfortunately, unable to cross the border to see our family in Michigan.
A new school year started with a whole host of required rules, regulations and protocols to try and protect both staffs and students from the spread of COVID as kids and personnel returned to school, masked and in stable class groups, typically referred to as a "bubble." This, of course, meant limited extracurricular options such as basketball and band. Thankfully, our school experienced only a few confirmed cases of COVID necessitating the involvement of public health authorities. This typically meant a class would switch to distance learning for a two week period, and this happened with Mary's class once.
Post-secondary education remained mostly online. Once case counts started rapidly rising last fall, the three upper grades (including Jon's class) began alternating days : one day at school with the following one on line, thus reducing the number of older students in the building at a given time. On either side of the Christmas holiday, the entire school had a few days of distance learning, taking advantage of the holiday to create a "quarantine," with the goal of flattening the curve.
In January, an 8 p.m. curfew was instituted. As the one year anniversary of the first confinement approached, the situation seemed to maybe be improving. Certain sections began reopening over Spring Break, curfew was moved back to a bit later in the evening and plans to return the upper secondary to school 100% of the time started being discussed.
Then cases of COVID variants arrived, first popping up but then snowballing, even as spring was arriving). We had been planning for our the return of our entire student body to in presence learning, at school, for the first time since back in October, after the Easter holiday. Thursday before Easter, the government announce another tightening of health and security measures. Instead of everyone finally at school, everyone would be distance learning, for at least that first week.
That first week has been prolonged on a week by week basis since. As I type, the hope is that May 3, students will return to school, although at the last press conference, the prime minister made it clear that the first priority was the elementary kids. About a month in to this most recent confinement (that is the word used in French), it feels a bit like a reboot of what happened last year.
And, as I talk with some of my colleagues, that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, a symbol of hope and the need to persevere just bit longer, now seems to have transformed into a fantastic, mythological creature that we talk about, but don't really think it exists.
In all reality, I can't personally complain (except for the current impossibility to travel back to Michigan). I am a hermit living in a family of hermits who all enjoy hermit-ing together. My kids miss their friends, but that is part and parcel of missionary kid's life, so it isn't weird. They are used to maintaining relationships at a distance. In all reality, we are making the most of this treasure of time as as family, time that our busy preCOVID world and culture no longer seemed to prioritize.
I know, however, that is not the case for many others. Many are feeling empty, nothing left in the tank to give and still no end in sight. Even the idea of vaccination is tricky, at least as I listen to conversations here because the vaccine doesn't mean the masking, the distancing, the disinfecting, the whole kit and kaboodle... will necessarily stop. Distance teaching when you are responsible to manage the distance learning of your children at the same time is challenging... at best. Participating in planting a church that can only meet "on-line" is uncharted territory.
I was reading the other morning in 2 Kings 4, the story of the widow who had emptied every possible resource and then realized that the only thing left was to sell her children into slavery. In desperation, she goes to the prophet of Elijah who asks her what remains. Her reply? "A small flask of oil." What he tells her doesn't make sense : "Collect a whole bunch of empty pots and dump that oil into them," which she could then sell to pay her debts and care for her family.
God loves. The Bible is full of stories where He gives worth to what is valueless, frees what is imprisoned, restores what is desolate and abandoned, breathes life to what is barren...
This story touched me because another thing God does is that He longs to fill with abundance what life, what this world, what sin, has emptied.
Before leaving Niger, I taught through the first part of the book of John to the ladies' group at our church. Just a cursory recall of that study, I see example after example of this:
- The wedding in Cana where servants fill empty pots with water, which Jesus changes into wine.
- The Samaritan women came to the well to fill her bucket with water, but left filled with the living Water.
- 5000 plus hungry bellies filled with fish and bread.
- Blind eyes now filled with sight thanks to muddy spittle grace.
- interacting with students and colleagues focusing on authentic care and kindness,
- prioritizing collaboration and compromise,
- focusing less on actual academics and more on learning processes, self-discipline and healthy lifestyle choices,
- building a sense of competency and personal responsibility in learning, and
- actually making a difference.