Staying connected lets acceptance, healing begin

Staying connected lets acceptance, healing begin

As a society we tend to be a bit cynical of today’s youth. As one who is immersed in their lives, both personally and professionally, I sometimes am as well.

This particular group will forever be known as the generation who ate Tide Pods and who genuinely believe the Jonas Brothers getting back together for a reunion tour, at the time only having four albums and having only been broken up for just over five years, is a major musical milestone. Because of their youth, we sometimes have to accept their lack of worldly knowledge and meaningful music history.

But now this group of teenagers, along with all of us, are having lives affected in unprecedented ways.

On Friday the 13th of all days, I stood before a group of over 50 members of the Wooster High Drama Club to tell them, in all likelihood, the shows for which they have been spending months and countless hours preparing would most likely not be happening. With disappointment clouding their faces, a few tears were shed, and the natural inclination of whom to blame and whom to punch was ever present.

It is a real thing to want to place blame and get consumed by the selfish notion of what “I am being robbed of.” I cannot fault teenagers for thinking this way; it just means the activities the schools provide for them matter enough that they are willing to cry over the fact they may lose them. Because of their inability to communicate well, we sometimes forget this.

As I have stressed to all of my students, the Drama Club included, the danger is letting this selfishness consume us. As most know, aside from the conspiracy theorists and science detractors, the COVID-19 virus is not a Drama Club problem or even a Wooster City Schools problem. It is a problem affecting every living being, inside and outside of every school, all over the planet.

On a smaller scale we have to realize and accept this rather obvious fact: Disappointment looms for everyone, and it is imperative, as a high school culture, we do not minimize the loss of many of these activities simply because we are not involved in them.

It is heartbreaking that my cast of “Clue,” which includes 14 seniors, may not get to perform in their final show as WHS students. Seniors may feel like they are being robbed, and to some extent they are, but so are underclassmen who look up to them, learn from them, idolize them and also are struggling with the fact they may never get to perform with their favorite seniors again.

What my performers are experiencing is no different than what athletes are feeling or what members of the choirs and bands who have spent months preparing for adjudicated events that they will not get to attend also are feeling.

I am equally sad for the second-grader I talked to the other day, 6 feet apart mind you, who was looking forward to seeing her artwork on full display at the Fine Arts Festival. That sadness is real and is no less significant in her heart than other activities are in the hearts of a performer, a lacrosse goalie, a starting pitcher on the baseball team or a second chair clarinet player in the band.

The commonality is we are experiencing these losses together, not as a group or clique or as a member of a club or a team, but as a school community. We must seek comfort in the realization that this is a loss for “us” not “me.” Staying connected in this way, with this shared experience, might be the only way acceptance and healing can eventually begin.

With school having recently moved to an online learning platform, the first virtual assignment my wife, Kristi, and I gave to our contemporary composition classes revolved around the coronavirus and its place in history. As an attempt at being a link to the outside world, they were tasked with writing letters to those who are residents in local nursing homes; no group can currently feel more isolated from the world and loved ones than our elderly.

Kristi and I think it is helpful to move beyond our own circles of self-involvement and consider those whose lives have been genuinely upended by this crisis.

Apart from their curiosity regarding the lives of those in the nursing home, one student included in his letter, “What I truly wanted to write about was to let you know that you're in my mind and my prayers, and in this time I think it's safe to say that the most learned of us, namely you and your friends in the nursing home, need to be protected and are our most valuable. We’re thinking of you.”

Tide Pods aside, maybe that cynicism is misplaced after all.

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