When I was student, from elementary school through my master’s program, I always enjoyed the beginning of the school year. Of course I was sad to see summer vacation come to an end, but I liked school, and the first day of classes made me optimistic about the semester to come.
With a syllabus and fresh school supplies, I found comfort in envisioning what the next 15 weeks would look like, and I would start to make plans. I told myself: This year, I wouldn’t leave an assignment to the last minute. This year, I will have a plan, and I will stick to it until the very last day of class. Like most resolutions, whether they are made in January or August, I may not have kept these habits up; but on that first day, it helped me to devise a plan.
I don’t know that any of us — students or otherwise — can predict what our calendars will look like for the next 15 weeks. I hope our collective efforts at social distancing and the work of scientists and medical professionals will mean that December looks different than today, but that sort of progress doesn’t have a clear and organized timeline on which we can base our calendar.
This makes planning for the future difficult, and stressful those of us who love a good plan.
As I map out the semester for the campus ministry I lead, I don’t know what these events will look like or what the state of our world will be when they happen. As I fill out my calendar, there is an implicit question mark next to everything I write.
However, this is true for every season of life, not just our current one. Humans are never as in control of our surroundings as we would like to believe ourselves to be. There are things beyond our control, whether it is a global pandemic or something on a much smaller scale.
While it is disconcerting to plan for a future that feels particularly uncertain, this is also an opportunity to cultivate skills that may serve us during other moments when things don’t go according to plan.
With our normal routines thrown out the window, we can discern what truly matters to us and use our creativity to ensure that what is important remains present in our lives. We can become more resilient, understanding that though our plans may change, the new ways of doing things are not necessarily bad.
Most importantly, we can continue to embrace our community. Despite social distancing, we are not in this alone, and we do not get through any hardship by sheer individual grit.
The simple sight of a person in a mask reminds me that we bear the collective responsibility and privilege to care for one another, now more than ever.
Creativity, resiliency, and community. These are the sort of things you can’t check off a to-do list on a calendar, but they are what will guide us through the next 15 weeks, and whatever comes next.
Caroline Barnett is the associate pastor and campus minister at First Presbyterian Church in Auburn.