I hope you are having the time of your life. You’ve just come home from a summer study abroad term in Oxford where you met some of the most wonderful people, and now you’re probably lounging on the beach beside your best friends. I already know you tried to savor every bit of Oxford because you didn’t know when you’ll be back again; that “when” is about to turn into an “if” real quick. So take lots of videos and absorb as much history as possible. Document every experience that you can. At the beach, soak up the sun (but remember your SPF); listen to the sound of the waves crashing, squish the fine sand in between your toes. Inhale the sharp salty air even if it stings your nostrils, because these will be the last sensory recollections you have of the ocean for a while.
I’m not going to preface this by saying not to freak out, because you always jump to the worst conclusions. You’re correct in your assumption that 2020 will be a monumental year. Monumentally catastrophic, that is. By March of next year, a sweeping virus scientists have identified as Coronavirus, or COVID-19, will overtake practically every nation in the world and escalate into a global pandemic. Don’t be fooled; the numbers may start small, but with each day the death rate nearly doubles. The virus’s death toll in NY alone is greater than that of 9/11. Words like social distancing and quarantining will become part of your everyday vocabulary, as well as rules to live by. We’re all staying in our houses for an indefinite amount of time to help stop transmission among the sick as well as from those who are asymptomatic carriers. Hand sanitizer has become a hot commodity, and a pack of Clorox wipes sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Instead of breaking out the summer shorts and tank tops, people will be donning gloves, masks, any sort of protection to stop the spread of the virus. Please invest in some good lotion now while you can still run to the mall. Accept the fact that your hands are beginning to look like a roadmap with all the cracks from incessant handwashing.
Possibly the worst news besides the rapid spread of COVID-19 is that you won’t be able to see any family or friends—no one besides Mom, Dad, Kat, and John—for a while. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know how long this will be. The scariest part for you is that you could possibly pass the disease onto your grandparents or anyone with a compromised immune system. A week or two in, however, you’re finding out that people younger than your parents, and younger than you, are also dying. That’s why Salve moves to remote learning for the rest of the semester. It’s why you cancel your spring break trip as soon as soon as you come home. It’s why you stay inside and let your heightened OCD get the best of you as you furiously clean everything that enters your little bubble, enacting a rigorous assembly line system in order to wipe down each grocery item or piece of mail. At first, Mom and Kathryn will complain that you’re being over the top. Stock up on all the Tums and antacids that you can now; once you come home from school, all the stress and anxiety will cause persistent heartburn and chest pain that’ll last for three weeks before it dulls. For a while, you’ll retreat to your bed and not climb out for days. You’ll stop talking to friends and care less about schoolwork, thinking about all the projects at Salve you’ll never get to accomplish and the senior friends you’ll most likely never see again.
Please, please savor every bit of your summer while you can. Take extra pictures, give extra hugs, write down your favorite moments of the day because later you’ll want lighter and sweeter times to reminisce on. Don’t be afraid to talk to that cute guy from work because it’s indefinite when you’ll see him again. Have no qualms about speaking up in English classes because soon you’ll be more self-conscious answering questions from behind a computer screen. This experience will make you realize how much humans take for granted. Grabbing a bit to eat with friends. Hugging a family member. Shaking someone’s hand. All this, gone in what feels like an instant. Medical professionals on the front lines are working tirelessly to combat this disease and their overcrowded hospitals. Essential workers in daycares, grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacy, truck drivers, etc., are still clocking in everyday to help serve the community and bring us all the products that are constantly out of stock: toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, latex gloves, and certain foods (can you believe Stop and Shop ran out of eggs??) Do good by donating some money for protective equipment and sew cloth masks to give family members and hospitals.
Don’t be scared if your mind becomes crowded with worst-case scenarios; that’s natural, and it’ll take you a couple weeks to find a silver lining in all of this. Truth is, humans have done some pretty amazing things in their isolation. Even though the entire nation is quarantined, you’ll find that everyone is working together towards a common goal and hope for the future. Don’t be afraid to get creative and keep your mind occupied by trying something new or making time for “you” every day. Take advantage of the free time you’ll have at home. The adjustment to online classes won’t be so bad, and all your professors and classmates are extremely supportive of one another. It may seem like the opportune time to read and write, but for a while you’ll feel like anything you put on paper is meaningless. Promise me that you’ll try. Things will get better. You’ll have to convince some other people of that before you believe it yourself. The fall semester taught you a lot about yourself and stretched the limits of what you thought you were capable of. Now, you’ll learn how to cope with fear and uncertainty. These are strange times, but all of us are enduring them together.
Stay safe, stay happy, and enjoy the rest of your summer. Smile a little bigger and hug everyone a little tighter for me.