“Sometimes, carrying on, just carrying on, is the superhuman achievement.”
-Albert Camus, The Fall.
In my last Bulletin, I shared the “five rules” that my late wife and I developed to cope with life as she battled terminal cancer. These seem applicable, to some extent, as we try to cope with the pandemic and its many challenges. Of course, adapting these rules to our current circumstances is not necessarily a simple correlation. For instance, the first rule, “keep working,” which I intend to unpack here might at first not seem to easily fit our present situation. Work in our current circumstances is far from normal and not always without risks. In addition, with so many in our community facing unprecedented unemployment, it may seem a bit Pollyannaish, simplistic, and somewhat callous to say “keep working.” It also weighs heavily on me as I make difficult decisions that affect work at the college. To say, “keep working,” is not easy in the age of pandemics.
Originally, rule one was simply a pragmatic statement: while at times circumstances made it difficult to work, we needed to keep our insurance and pay the bills. However, in time the idea behind the rule changed. It was not simply about employment, insurance, or income. It was more about doing what needed to be done, working the problem, dealing with things whatever might come our way. It was about not giving up. When faced with what seem to be insurmountable odds and horrendous problems, it is easy to be paralyzed by fear, doubt, or the magnitude of it all. It is easy to get overwhelmed. However, if we are to survive, we must continue to do what needs to be done. Time seems to stand still as the enormity of life crashes down upon us. How can we go on as if everything was the same? But time does not stand still; life does go on. We too must continue; we must carry on. And there is wisdom in doing so.
“Keep calm and carry on.” We have all seen this slogan on posters and coffee mugs. In a sense, Rule One shares many things in common with it. The slogan originated in World War II, during the Siege of London, when the German Luftwaffe waged its devastating bombing campaign against Britain. The slogan, developed by the British ministry of information, was common in the streets of London to raise morale. The wisdom inherent in the slogan is that we must forge ahead in spite of the problems that face us. Neither panic nor inaction helps us to solve our problems or change our circumstances. Working the problem, breaking it down into manageable pieces, getting things done and staying active empowers us, gives us a sense of control, and accomplishment. It also keeps us moving forward toward a solution.
“Keep working” also means not getting so absorbed by a single issue that we ignore all the other things that need to get done. Cleaning a messy kitchen, working on our garden, or cooking a nice meal gives us a sense of accomplishment, of normalcy in the midst of chaos. These are also necessary things that need to get done. In doing those simple ordinary tasks, in carrying on with our lives, we not only regain a sense of control, but can also find a sense of peace since these simple tasks and routines can be meditative and relaxing.
As a college, through teamwork and incredible hard work, we’ve been able to carry on in spite of a devastating pandemic. We’ve adapted. We’ve done what needed to be done. In a little more than a month, the fall semester will start. There are still many unknowns in what will happen in the months to come. Given current trends in the pandemic, there is a high probability of the pandemic worsening. We do not know fully what the public schools in our region will do, although it will be far from a normal return to classes; regardless of the format they adopt, it will certainly affect our students and staff with school aged children. The full impact of the pandemic on the economy and our community remains to be seen. In spite of all of the unknowns and all of the challenges, I am certain of one thing: we will carry on. We will adapt. We will do what needs to get done and we will make sure our students succeed. Although apart, together we will get through these difficult times. We will continue to work, take each day at a time, stay calm and carry on. Stay safe. Stay strong, QCC strong!