When an Alternate Reality Becomes the New Normal
As busy creatures, our world thrives on communication, connection, and exchange. We talk to our friends and colleagues throughout the work day, and find some time, if granted, to speak to our loved ones. But, what if the tables were to suddenly turn? What if we no longer could be around our peers and co-workers, or if we are forced to leave our work areas? Each progressive day would be spent living in fear, and uncertainty for the future would overcome many of us.
Will we get to spend each day with our friends and colleagues soon again? Will a semblance of normalcy be restored soon enough?
In the times of COVID-19, our lives are left frozen. Right at the climax of the movie, the picture fades out, the sound distorts, and we feel ourselves losing control over the ability to finish the scene. We find ourselves at a loss of control.
But, does a loss of control really mean that we are lost?
Naturally, some of us may get lost in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, it has forced us to be confined to our homes, meeting people around the clock, except virtually. Not everyone has a stable internet connection, and not everyone is in the right headspace to stay connected online and communicate with others. In the times we are facing today, we are not able to see our friends, or be on our college campus. Instead, we are confined in our homes and “social-distancing,” as per the CDC recommendations. It is hard to connect, while preoccupied by the losses occurring in the world around us. It is hard to connect, not only because of social-distancing, but because we can tend to start distancing ourselves, socially.
COVID-19 has shown many of us difficulties we have never had to face during our lifetime. We are living in an age of innovation, and to recreate a sense of normalcy can be strikingly difficult to us. Due to the pandemic, we have compromised our ability to remain as the free, social beings we are. Interaction is done solely through phone calls and not face-to-face conversations; love is shown through texting loved ones images of hearts, not by wrapping them in warm embraces. Our ways of expressing our emotions have been forced to change significantly due to the pandemic. We have been forced to adopt new daily routines which, for many of us, were highly unanticipated. We have learned plenty of harsh lessons. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Life will not always go as we please. However, in such times, finding pleasure in little things that still kindle a fire within us is imperative.
Luckily, as creatures of habit and as beings with empathy, we have been able to open our hearts and minds to seeing the COVID-19 outbreak as a chance to reflect upon how much we can truly control what comes at us in life, and to see how powerful society as a collective can be. Staying apart is not what we are accustomed to, but because of COVID-19, we have learned that there is power within distance. We can save lives by simply staying to ourselves at home, to minimize the spread of a virus. We are powerful even within the little things we do. And, most importantly, we are capable of making a difference.
As students in the “Call for Social Change” course at Union, we have adapted to our new remote classroom setting. Whereas in the “old normal” we would have created our space of creative thinking and innovative ideas at Urban Co-Works in Schenectady, NY, our classroom setting looks much different now. Our “new normal” involves Zoom classes, comments made via Google Docs, and surveys sent out to classmates to help us further our content. Our flexibility and resilience have proven vital in transitioning to this new remote learning, but it has come with its fair share of challenges.
Take a class and scatter its students across the country and a variety of issues arise. Some are technical: issues with Zoom, computer shutdowns, and weak WiFi connections. Others involve our surroundings. Not everyone has a suitable working space. Family members have been loud and distracting, sometimes even walking into our virtual classes before backing away slowly, murmuring apologies. Being separated also means being in different time zones, so meeting synchronously takes additional planning. Communication brings its fair share of difficulties. What might have been accomplished in one short, in-person discussion now takes significantly more time on Zoom. Students accidentally speak over one another online, confusion is evident, and we are tentative to ask questions or engage with one another virtually. We struggle to form close connections as a class given these remote circumstances.
Then, there are the unanticipated challenges, the ones that snuck up on us or came up so gradually, we almost were not aware until they became issues. Most of these challenges relate to our current social situation—this unprecedented pandemic. We might have all adapted quite well to learning remotely, but that remains only one small part of many of our lives. We now have heightened emotions. We circulate through anxiety, frustration, sadness, bursts of happiness, and stress. The mental toll this pandemic has taken on us as students is farther reaching than we could have predicted. Productivity and motivation are only two of the many casualties of our current situation. Some days stick out as better than others. It is likely that on more than one occasion, we’ve asked ourselves, “what day is it again?”
While none of us were diagnosed with COVID-19 during this term, the effects are profound. Concern for loved ones, feeling the loss of a family member or friend, and remembering to take the time to check in with ourselves and how we’re feeling are inescapable moments of the pandemic.
The stories that follow will give readers insight on the minds of a group of 14 young people during one of the worst crises in contemporary history. In a matter of weeks, the world seemingly stopped spinning. Millions around the globe have contracted COVID-19. At the time of this writing, there is no vaccine, nor is there a medical consensus for treatment. The pandemic is still raging. The world is likely to take a turn for the better in ways that the authors do not know for certain. The authors of this book recognize and embrace this reality. Although a medical consensus has not yet been reached, there is a consensus among this group. This group recognizes that while current problems are vast, solutions are possible, and that we all feel personally responsible in playing a part in finding them. We ask that you try to appreciate the burden many of these writers are working and collaborating under. This group was never able to meet in person. These are not normal times.
The chapters address a handful of subjects. Some focus on improving problems specific to the current crisis. Others address recurring issues that have been recently exacerbated. Several chapters focus on identity and spiritual reflection. Many take aim at improving the systems that make up the foundations of society, whether that be education, health, or the community. All of these works are bold and written with sincere hope to better the world we all share.
The authors of this book are spread across the United States. Some of them are a couple hours’ drive from Union, others are a long flight away. Some of them will return to Union College in the fall of 2020. Seniors had their final days taken away and forced to say goodbye to Union early. Our guide, Christine Henseler has reminded us time and again “We are in this together, even if we are standing apart.” While this has been true for the collaboration this project demanded, this idea is at the heart of each of the subsequent chapters.
All of the authors of this book are amazing people in their own right. Their engagement with this project has been special to watch up close, and by up close we mean over Zoom, email, and GroupMe. In their personal endeavors, the authors are athletes, artists, historians, and so much more. They are leaders of various campus organizations. The impact each of these individuals will have on the communities, organizations, and businesses they interact with throughout their lives will be special. These changemakers are just getting started.
When you read each chapter, we ask that you remain receptive. You’ll find yourself walking in many different people’s shoes. While this book has plenty of personal reflection and individual thought, the ideas presented are for much broader implementation. The issues or predicaments you read about affect more than just the author writing about them. You might find some of the chapters more relatable than others. This will be different for each reader. If we can issue a charge to you, the reader, take care with the chapters you cannot relate to, do not let this be your last thoughts or learning moments on that topic. Each chapter is a different and equally powerful experience.
While we continue to stand apart for the foreseeable future, we’ll always be in this together — including you.