What is Essential?

The COVID-19 crisis has, in short order, reframed the way I view myself, my family, my community, my work, and my world. Although as of this writing no one in my family has been stricken with or died from the virus, several students and colleagues have lost family members. Several more will follow.

I’ve reached out to students to see how they’re doing, several of whom are likely not responding because they are dealing directly with this crisis in some way. Of those responding, one is working long hours at a grocery store, another is babysitting her brother while her mom works overtime at Amazon where someone recently tested positive, and another is being kept from his mother and grandmother who are in the hospital with Coronavirus.

As an educator married to another educator, I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are to be working from home and in good health. Although I am an advocate for public education, it is debatable whether my job is essential right now.

Which begs the question of what is actually essential: medical workers, first responders, police officers, grocers, delivery drivers, pharmacists. In the words of governor Whitmer, people who work in industries that “protect and sustain life.” Three weeks ago that list would have looked much longer: lawyers, investment bankers, pro athletes, filmmakers, YouTubers. No offense to any of those professions, but they are not essential right now. Valuable in many ways, yes. Essential? No.

What is essential is what we can’t live without.

So in the context of this national crisis, how might this change our students’ answer to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Might this be a chance to inspire our students not to pursue careers that earn the most money, but that are the most “essential?”

In a prophetic moment, a few weeks ago I polled our Eagle Scholars (graphic in the upper right) about potential career paths. I was stunned by the results: public service was the most popular response, over STEM, Business, the Arts, and Humanities.

Maybe this crisis will elevate farmers, small grocery store owners, nurses, first responders, police officers, and delivery drivers to a higher status. In short, jobs whose primary goal is not to profit from others, but to serve others, pandemic or not.

When we come out of this – and we will come out of this – perhaps it will have inspired a new generation driven not by rugged individualism but social responsibility.

I hope we’re all here to see it.

What is the Universe Telling me?

COVID-19 is forcing us to the right.
(Image Credit)

Regardless of age, health or location, the smartest people I know have self-quarantined. On their counsel, I’m also home with my wife and two boys working remotely and working harder domestically. Between looking for ways to keep Sam and James occupied, checking in with friends, and talking to my parents over the fence in a bizarre Home Improvement meets Every Body Loves Raymond scenario, this question is on a loop in my head:  What is the universe telling me right now?

Consider the education system.  With classes going online for several weeks (or months), parents, teachers, and administrators are rethinking everything we do and how we do it. Suddenly high stakes testing, class size, and evaluations are meaningless.  Soon enough, we are going to have some strange bedfellows: public, charter, private, and online education.

What is the universe telling me?

If we get this right, we could be looking at the biggest positive change in the history of American education.

A month ago, I bragged about having my head in the sand.  I was in a state of blissful myopia, ignoring social media and the news, mainstream and otherwise. Now? Being uninformed is not only irresponsible, it can be deadly. As someone young enough to not be at high risk and old enough to know better, it’s incumbent upon me to know what’s happening so I can act accordingly.

What is the universe telling me?

Blissful ignorance is selfish.

I checked in with my friend Chris over the phone for our longest call in years.  After acknowledging the gravity of the situation, he cut the tension with a story about heading to Kroger in a Hazmat suit to buy salad dressing for his 80-year-old neighbor. For the first time in months, I was literally rolling on the floor laughing. 

What is the universe telling me?

Seek out opportunities to laugh really hard with other people.

As a sports fan, March and April are truly the best time of year: March Madness, opening day in baseball, The Masters, the NFL draft, the NBA playoffs.  Typically most days have been full of options for escape, even during my darkest times, since childhood. No more.  Time to read, write letters, exercise, meditate, call people I haven’t called in awhile, engage and be fully present with my family. In other words, be Dionysus, not Appollonius (see graphic above).

What is the universe telling me?

Slow down, breathe, move inward. When this passes, we will all emerge more whole.