Are you finding that it’s hard not to feel sad right now?
It’s lingering right there, all the time. Some days life feels somewhat ‘normal’ – we’re adapting to the new routines, becoming used to the safety of our homes. And then other days…it’s just hard not to feel the weight, the enormity of what is unfolding in our world.
For the first week of the shelter at home orders in March in California, I slept. A lot. 12 hours or so a night. That counts the time I lay awake around 2 am, wondering how this was all going to play out. That was before I really understood what safe at home would be like. How distance learning and virtual teaching would transform education – and my job.
It was awhile before I realized how very, very sad this would make me.
I tried to get up ‘on time’, tried to cut back on coffee, to write my daily gratitudes, to reach out. I filled bird feeders and pulled weeds and watched my backyard slowly grow and give me a new space to just be. Never venturing too far from home I took twice-daily walks, just looping around and around my neighborhood, staying in the familiar, close territory to home. I switched out educational podcasts for audiobooks, responding to my need to hear and read stories, letting myself loose in the narrative. I made myself pull on a pair of well-worn jeans every morning, just to start some sort of routine.
Over the following three weeks, I dove into training teachers. I’m prepared for this – and I love being able to share my skills and excitement for educational technology with educators who feel scared, vulnerable, and yes, sad.
There’s a grief factor to what’s going on now if you’re an educator. The ‘old’ way of teaching and running a school died with the decision to close the buildings, to pivot into Google Classrooms and WebEx and Zoom to deliver curriculum and connect with students.
We hardly had a moment to take a breath. We had no time to be sad. Educators had to act fast, come together and figure this out.
We’re good at that – the quick decisions, the thinking on our feet.
And now, two weeks into our virtual classrooms, it feels a bit more routine – a bit more ‘normal’, whatever that means. I’m waking up earlier – too early, in fact. I’m starting my days outside, coffee and journal and birds and blooms. My walks are longer, taking me on new paths, new landscapes. I’ve had a few moments, even, where I feel almost settled.
But, despite my heroic attempts to push it aside, to break it down and not deal with it, I’m finding the sadness creep back in.
The postponements started trickling in, the canceling, rescheduling, the pushing-back on things that we’ve been looking forward to. Graduations. Weddings. End of the school year projects. Family trips. Funerals. College.
We’re flattening the curve, most definitely. But we’re flattening ourselves at the same time. Days blend into each other. The routines that helped me make it through the day feel comforting and monotonous simultaneously.
The dark side
I start to let the dark side crawl in. The spiraling, swirling sense of never-endingness. Of worry. Of wondering.
I’ve been using a ‘Weekly Check-In’ form with my students to build community and maintain relationships even when we’re not in the same physical space. You can see a copy of it here. They have options to tell me how they’re doing – ‘’I’m happy”, “I’m silly”, “I’m stressed”, “I’m angry”, and “I’m sad”. You can make a copy of my form here.
And guess what – sadness topped the list this week.
When a 7th grader shares their sadness on a digital form, it hurts. The impact of knowing they’re isolated at home, away from the structures and systems and community that we’ve created in our schools makes me sad.
How do I respond to that? Ignore it? No way. Brush it aside? Nope.
I am sad. THIS is sad. Challenging. Scary. Unsettling.
I want them to know I feel it, too. And that it’s ok to feel sad.
What I do
I ask them what they do to feel better and I tell them about how I go outside every morning, curl up under a fleece blanket on my patio, and sip my coffee.
I write to them about how I walk around my garden first thing, looking for new blooms. About how I take photos of my flowers and post them online, just to bring a smile to someone who is looking out the window at the snow.
When I feel sad, I say, I take a walk around my neighborhood. I look at the little things, the trees, and flowers and try to notice changes from the day before.
Sometimes I share how I look up at the sky, searching for birds and butterflies and clouds, and how I smile at other people as we walk towards each other, and then step out of the way. Sometimes I cross the street, just to keep my distance.
I still smile, even though it makes me feel sad.
I tell them about how I pick grapefruit off my backyard trees and leave them in a bag on my front lawn with a sign that says, ‘Take some for your family. I’ll keep sharing. Stay home”. And how I smile when a few hours later, the bag is empty.
I’m sad, for sure. I wish my mom could drive here and spend the weekend. I miss being able to jump on a plane and visit my daughter. I’m sad that her wedding is being postponed, colleges are shutting down, that trips and graduations are canceled and that people everywhere are sick and dying.
This loss of control over our lives, the lack of feeling like life (and we) aren’t moving forward, leaves us feeling like wanderers in a dark, dense, forest. We know there is a path, somewhere -it might be overgrown or trampled down, or we might have just taken a step too far to the side to stay on track. We know that once we get through this part, the scary, solitary steps we make will eventually lead us to…somewhere. Better than this. Definitely a different landscape.
I think I need to just leave it here, to be with the sadness and sink into today – to what is right here, right now. Robin Wall Kimmerer says, “If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can love it back to wholeness again.”
I’m ok with that kind of doorway. I’m ok with weeping a little bit now and then – I’m pretty sure our tears are just a lens to magnify the stars, anyways. With that kind of grief – that sadness that we can fix with love – I trust that we will find our way.