We had our faculty retreat on Zoom this past Thursday, with my Chair jokingly welcoming us back from ‘spring break,’ an homage to the fact that the last time we were together we were heading into our spring break days before the world came to a screeching halt for the next five months. We began classes on Monday at UAB, and the safety protocols to prevent the spread of Covid are both impressive and dizzying. I’m proud of my university and it’s wonderful hospital system and medical school. If things don’t go well, it won’t be because they didn’t do everything they could to protect our students, faculty, and staff.
I am feeling so many things right now, heading into my thirty-fourth year of teaching in a semester like no other. I miss my students and colleagues and am excited to see them, but that excitement is tinged with worry about the ‘what if’s’ of being on a busy campus in close quarters with people playing instruments and singing during a pandemic. We’re following the science, taking every precaution that we can to make music as safely as we can. We’ll look strange, but to be able to teach and make music together again is worth it.
Sunday was the last day, the end of five months of amorphous, surreal, and isolated life…at least unless our protocols, planning, and prayers don’t work and we are plunged back into a fully online semester. No matter what, I’ll be so happy to see my returning students and meet my new freshmen, seeing them one week in person, the next week in Zoom, alternating throughout the semester. At least this time I am prepared to teach using Zoom and have the equipment I need at home to teach well.
This has been a time of struggle for all of us, with those at the frontline in the medical field taking the brunt of it. For Dan and I, these past months have been a time of cocooning at home, doing tons of projects, cleaning and cleaning out, enjoying bike rides and lots of dog walks. We are huge introverts, so in a way it has felt like a very extended weekend of our typical home projects mixed with lots of administrative work from home and surreal masked ventures out to the grocery store and Lowe’s. It was life suspended in a way from the frenetic pace I have always kept my entire working career of long hours, lots of travel, too many commitments, too much stress. Covid has forced me to stop in my tracks and rethink my priorities. It has shaken me, I must admit.
Returning to school in the fall is usually a time of anticipation and excitement, of new beginnings and fresh starts. This year there are echoes of those feelings, but also something different, too. I feel gratitude that I have my career still when so many of my musician friends are struggling; I feel like we are in a war of sorts, doing our best to fight an invisible foe, with every single thing taking more time and being more challenging. I feel sadness trying to do my job in such a strange way, seeing my students struggle with it all. I feel the weight of the conflict of the world as it grapples with Covid, political drama, and racial strife.
We are living in truly extraordinary times. I have to remind myself…change…change is always hard, something I resist with every fiber of my being, though I don’t mean to. Maybe this will spark new pedagogical ideas and practices to give the last years of my career special meaning and new direction. Mom always said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I think we’re all going to be pretty damn strong after all is said and done. All I know is that I’m doing the best I can. My students deserve it. I deserve it.
Be safe everyone.