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Academics
Academic Vision

On Living in a Coronavirus Age

Read excerpts from reflections that seniors in Louisa Burdette's Creative Writing class wrote in response to a piece by C.S. Lewis called "On Living in an Atomic Age." 

An Excerpt from “On Living in an Atomic Age” by C.S. Lewis:
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. "How are we to live in an atomic age?" I am tempted to reply: "Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents."
 
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors - anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
 
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
 
Excerpts from Derryfield Senior Creative Writing Students’ Responses to C.S. Lewis: “On Living in a Coronavirus Age”:
 
I’ve also been cooking hot meals for my at-risk family members ― hot meals only: the heat kills the virus ― and wiping them down before hand-delivering them to porch steps. I’ve been gardening, catching up on Sherlock, making piles for donation when Goodwill opens again, cleaning the cars inside and out as a surprise for my stressed-out parents, baking, reaching out to old friends, settling scores with toxic people in my life, and creating little packages with handwritten notes that I will send to people I love but don’t talk to as a gesture that says, “Even though we might not talk that much, I love you and am here for you during this.”

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After this I will be more appreciative. I will appreciate the deep breaths I can take and each time I can go outside and see my friends, or even just go to the grocery store and not have to use hand sanitizer the second I get back into my car.
 
In a way, this virus has brought us home to show us what truly is important. Sports, movies, and stores can be temporary and can be closed, but our education needs to continue, we need to prioritize our health, and most importantly we need to remember the value of family. 

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The few times I have gone out I've observed people and I noticed people are a little bit more on edge and alert. Even in my family we are all a bit on edge and sometimes we snap at one another and catch an attitude but we have to remember why we are all stuck in this together and remind ourselves that we are all healthy and safe so does it really matter if dad ate the last cookie? So this pandemic has really just made me self aware and honestly has probably improved my mental state, I mean sometimes yes I get worried or anxious about what’s going on or what will happen in the future or think about how we might not return to our normal senior year. But I always remember those are the things I can’t control and I have to focus on the things I can control. 

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Even just a few weeks of no human activity and it seems the environment is doing the best it has done in years. Recent images of the clean air in Chinese cities and the clear blue waters in Venetian canals make me wonder: maybe this is just what we deserved. 
 
But I find comfort in the little things. Group FaceTime calls at three in the morning. Knitting while watching TV. Never changing out of my sweatpants. A newfound appreciation for nature. And knowing that, when this does come to pass, we will all be more aware of what we have. 

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I’ve started to notice lately that every single conversation I have, the topic of coronavirus always manages to slip in no matter what we are talking about. My friends and I crack jokes sometimes on facetime but I know they are just as scared as I am. One of the scariest parts about COVID-19 is that we are just forced to wait it out. We can’t take action and that is what upsets me. The people of America are forced to stay in their houses watching as this spectacle unfolds. It is truly surreal to talk to people I know from halfway across the globe tell me about the impact corona virus has had on them which is more or less the same impact it has had on me. 

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The hardest thing is that I do not feel like I am truly living because when I am truly living I do not go onto my devices. But now I have to go on my phone and computer so much now it makes me sad. 

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Something else about this whole pandemic is that it does not change my family dynamic at all. All of us are still going to work every day as our jobs are all considered essential. Even my 15 year old sister is working as well as she works with me. It is nice to be able to still make money but I worry everyday that my brother at Walmart might encounter an angry customer who feels the need to cough on him as I have seen in videos. Maybe someone at my job might stick their hands in the window and touch my hands on accident, yet still give it to me or my sister. 

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I still maintained hope, however, as the high school seasons remained intact. There has been so much that I have already put into this season and I have gone through a lot to get where I am, and I was not ready to have that taken away before it even started. As talk began about cancelling school, my fears began to grow and I began preparing myself for the possibility of a spring without lacrosse. 

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Food has also been something that I have taken for granted. I am fortunate enough to have a dad who loves to cook, so every night we try a new food, or variation of a food that we all love. 

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At first I didn’t care. Well, I cared but I never paid any attention to it. It was never on my mind. Now I can’t escape the thought of it. Now it’s my reality too. I remember a month ago I was talking to a friend and he asked me to write down how many cases in the US there were, I wrote down “64”. We checked that again, a month later once we had forgotten, and in just one month it was 53 times our original number. It was shocking. My heart dropped. It felt so real all of a sudden. 

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Yesterday I called my grandma, and gently urged her not to go to any more dinner parties, to stock up on food, and to stay healthy. “Don’t you worry about me”, she said, chipper as usual, “I don’t even feel OLD.” And I laughed as she struggled to figure out facetime. I will remain isolated for her, for the independent, sassy grandmas of our country who don’t deserve to go this way after a lifetime of living. I emailed the local food pantry, offering my body for anything they might need. They responded warmly and with appreciation. I reached out to my boss, the owner of a Japanese restaurant, herself an Asian immigrant, stubborn yet deeply scared of shutting down the project she put her life savings into. I emailed my creative writing teacher, you, who asked me what books I’ll read. So many, Ms. Burdette. Because there is still work to be done, even in bed or at the breakfast nook by a sunny window. As C.S. said, “They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”  It is the silent thing I whisper to myself every day because freedom is everything now. And that, amongst the many small and large heartbreaks of this new normal, is a tiny blessing.

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For me, this quarantine is most certainly not the end of the world. The virus is serious, and I believe it should be taken as such, but I am lucky to have not felt its effects. This “corona-vacation” has been an opportunity for me to spend more time with my family and spend more time outside, to slow down the usual fast pace of my life. I have been cooking almost all of my meals from scratch, something I do not normally do. I’ve come to enjoy the patience such a task requires, and the satisfaction it produces. I have tried to appreciate the little moments, such as when my home-made tuscan white bean farro soup simmers on the stove-top, or my cinnamon carrot cake emerges from the oven, awaiting a just-whipped cream cheese frosting.

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While a lot of time can be spent playing video games I hold myself off until 12:30 every day taking the time to read, shower, eat, read, and do something active. I’ve buried myself in chores because of the many of the things I like to do to waste time, organizing is the only thing that’s remotely productive. My closet has never looked better. I’ve also spent a lot of time playing games with friends and having a lot of fun doing so. It’s not quite the same as hanging out in person but there've been nights where 4 or 5 of us have just played and games and laughed and genuinely had a great time. I’m not a frightened sheep because above everything else I refused to let myself be a victim.

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It’s strange in the sense that I am very aware that I am living a moment of  history. Like a man walking on the moon for the first time, or the Berlin Wall coming down, I know that I am in a part of history. I know that I am a primary source for this time, and that has been a source of surprising stress and anxiety. Yes I’m stressed about running out of food, and yes I’m terrified that my grandparents will get the disease and not be able to fight it, but I also know that this is a time that I will look back on forever and that my children and grandchildren will ask me about. It makes me feel like I need to “do it right”. I don’t know how else to explain it  other than, I’m scared that when all of this is  over, I’ll have handled it all wrong. Of course, there is no right way to behave during this time, no one in our lifetime has experienced (besides people who survived the Spanish Flu in 1918) anything like this. I’m trying to document  my experiences as best I can by journaling and that has helped my nerves a little bit. But the feeling that I am a puzzle piece in this part of history is a feeling of anxiety that I can’t seem to shake. I try to remind myself and others that we don’t have to be our best selves during this time, we’re allowed to feel the stress and the fear, and we’re allowed to be frustrated that our lives are being put on pause for a little while. Even though I tell my friends that, it’s time to practice what I preach.

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When things seem disconnected or on autopilot, I know I need to find something to do instead of lying in bed all day. The same applies now during this time of social distancing. If I let myself fall down, getting rid of all my responsibilities and expectations, I can end up destroying my mental state. As humans, we’re hardwired to live, to just do something. I love coloring, I love watching videos and movies, and I love sitting outside for a bit and feeling the sun on my skin. I love giving my dog tummy rubs, I love doing a few yoga poses, and I love learning a new fact or skill. Although it seems simple and cliche and obvious, being in the present moment by doing “human things” is incredibly powerful, especially for people like me who suffer with depression and dissociation. Even just getting out of bed and watering my houseplants is a great step forward. Everyone has their own sensible human things that are effective for them, yet things won't always work on the first try, and that's okay. We find something new, and try again. 

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I feel like on a smaller scale now, we are grieving the loss of something interconnectedly vital. And I and my family and my friends are very privileged to be safe right now. We must remember this. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

I’ve had to move on from every stage of my life too early. This is not new to me, it feels expected, even. The innocence and comfort of adolescence will not come to a glorious crescendo until the culmination of the final booming chord. It will dwindle, it will get quieter and softer and fainter until the most delicate pianissimo fades to silence. And that’s okay. I am trying to make that okay. The loss of time, just like the loss of life, is not something we’re encouraged to dwell on. But I hate to think that I will live the rest of my life with a permanent unshakeable sense of dissatisfaction, that my childhood will not seem wholly formed. 

So what is there to do? I will try to allow myself a grieving process longer than our ever patriotic three days. I will not mask my sadness in the scent of lilies. I will wear it on my sleeve, all the while giving thanks for the fact that this loss is not one that I am going through alone. This one, I can speak about, for it is not unspeakable, I can write about, for my words are not illegible, I can tell whomever I please. This one is scary, but I do not feel afraid of it. I do not need to live fearfully. I will make do with what I have and I will finish writing the story of my childhood, twist ending be damned. That, I can do. That, I deserve. That, we deserve. To have one story with an ending that may not be happy, but at least it is whole.

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Life in the corona age has brought a new relationship between my essential nature and the earth. Spending time outside has allowed the voice inside to flow. Having my attention turned away from the things of the world and has allowed me to live more in the world. Allowing the inner chatter to fly away free has left a stillness and quiet. The noise of my thoughts has been replaced with the feelings and powers of my being. My mind is not as cloudy anymore. I am able to walk down the green, spacious landscape of my mind while I sit amongst the pine trees and sun. Not trying to force anything to happen, but allowing time to flow.   

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I have somewhat come to terms with the reality of the situation, and decided to try to make the most of it. The brown butter chocolate chip cookies that I spent hours in the kitchen perfecting yesterday are a good coping mechanism. So is an afternoon hike. The cookies sit at the bottom of my backpack, waiting to be eaten as a mid-adventure snack. A rock by the waterfall provides a great spot to stop and take in the view. The sun’s rays caress my face with their warmth as the sound of crashing water rings in my ears. I savor the moments that I am not thinking of the pandemic raveging the outside world, instead finding peace in the moments spent away from the chaos. 

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Love In a Time of Cholera reaffirmed my thought that love could grow at hard times. I found normalcy when relating back to historical times. I immersed in every descriptive love story, feeling the agitation, abruption, and repentance Fermina felt. I had not yet found bored after two weeks not stepping outside. I have met interesting people in books and this was suggested by my boyfriend’s mom who I met after two years at graduation who once said to me, “books have all the answers”.

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Sheep isn’t the word I would use. More like a new pet dog. Honestly that’s how I’ve been the past few weeks in quarantine. I keep busy browsing social media, playing video games, and watching netflix shows or movies. By the way, I highly recommend “The Platform”(warning, it’s pretty disturbing). Sometimes that even gets boring and I’ll read a book and work out until I start to wonder what else I can do. It’s calming actually because I’m enclosed in a safe environment. I get fed by Doordash or maybe when my dad comes back from the grocery store. My parents are kind of like my owners in a sense. 

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I’d say I refuse to let the fear caused by the virus get to me, but if I did, I’d be lying. I am afraid of what may happen to the world, and on a smaller scale, to my world. Will we have a graduation? A prom? Will my family be safe? Will I be safe? I don’t know, and I’m afraid that I don’t know. But I often find that during times of great fear of the unknown, there emerges great innovation. The fear of the night and the chill and danger that lurks in it brought forth the discovery of fire. The fear of death from an unknown power brought forth the discovery of the germ and vaccines to fight them. At a personal level, the fear from this uncertainty brought to light the type of person I want to be. To put it a bit grimly, it showed me that a good life is one that I’m okay dying with (I know I’m relatively safe from the virus, but it’s the thought that counts).

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In strange and uncertain times like these, I have found that the main thing to arise from this situation is boredom. When you find yourself stuck at home, unable to visit friends or family, or even go out for a simple meal, boredom is inevitable. Naturally, my initial response was one of unhappiness and restlessness at being stuck in the house, but I have found that simply trying to do any sort of activity or even chore outside can be a great way to break up the day and give your mind the rest it needs. I have been trying to find more chores and work around my house to occupy my time, because not only does it help me feel some sort of gratification of work, it also serves to keep my parents happy and from losing their minds at being stuck in the house with us as well. Fitness has been another element of my new daily routine that had been previously forgotten. I try to work out at least once a day, as I find it to be very stress relieving and helps me get rid of a lot of my pent up energy.

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The physical connections can only be masked by a virtual connection that is just enough to only satisfy the urge to go out with friends. But we know this cause is bigger than ourselves which is why we stay inside. For those selfish enough to continue to live life as normal put multiple people’s lives on the line, especially those most vulnerable to the disease. People at home see this and suddenly the question creeps into our mind if they’re not self quarantined why should I. You’re brain answers this question by reminding you that this is a group fight and that YOU need to do YOUR part and cannot control what others do and do not do.
 
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 I think that's what is most scary about this virus is that you never really know if we are making progress or when it's gonna end because it's growth is exponential. But currently, as bad as this pandemic is, I do not feel like a “frightened sheep”. As long as I know that my family and I are okay then I'm just going to let the professionals handle it. Things that I have started doing is mostly stuff that wouldn’t have been able to get to normally. Like cleaning up the house or fixing things that would normally be pushed aside. It’s a good time to start these things because now more than ever you have all the time in the world to do those things with no excuses. 
 
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Being alone in my room with no movement and no fresh air turned me into something of a shell. Like a person with no feeling or purpose, just slow movements and thoughts. I first realized this when I got into my car and felt really off. Something wasn’t right and I did not know what to do about it. When I got to her house and started to move around outside and talk with people I began to feel so much better. This was the moment I realized that being outside, moving, and talking to people was a very important part of my life and that I felt empty without it. 
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