America has just come through a rather sticky election, and now that it’s over I’m going to publicly admit I was fairly revolted by both candidates, and cast my vote with a heavy heart. But cast it I did, and now it is time to move forward and make the best of whatever comes next. At the end of the day, God is in charge, and he has always had rather more going on under his hair than any president, king, or dictator ever has, which is why I have been talking to God about the virus, rather than venting my spleen at Washington D.C.
Every afternoon I get on my phone to look at the latest covid numbers, watching them become increasingly distressing as cases in the United States, and specifically Utah, spiral wildly out of control. It’s not as though I think national and local governments are stupidly helpless and should stand around scratching their backsides while God handles the crisis. Far from it!! I am extremely clear on the importance of wise leadership, good example, and organized boots on the ground, but each afternoon when I’m reading the day’s numbers I’m not thinking about the state or national conversation. I am thinking of my children, my siblings and their families, my dad, my stepmom, my grandma, my aunts, uncles, and cousins, my dear friends, and my students. The circle I want to protect is hundreds of people deep, scattered across cities, states, and countries, all in harm’s way. It’s easy to feel discouraged.
Utah has had a bad week with daily covid cases in the thousands. The governor’s office is saying it is being spread in homes and small gatherings, and that’s likely true, but I can’t help noticing that cases began the quiet climb to critical mass after school started. It really wasn’t all that chilly in Utah until recently, so people were not confined in their homes by the weather. However, they were more confined by a school schedule, one where students walk in crowded halls and social distance only when a teacher breaks up the party. Some young kids do become visibly or even seriously ill with covid, but many catch it without ever showing any signs. After school they head home where more obvious spread happens in family or small gatherings.
At my school there is only a handful of known cases, but one teacher has been hospitalized, and is currently struggling with recovery. Personally, I have no inkling how my body would react to covid. I’m generally healthy, but I’m not thin, and my immune system has been through the ringer with cancer and several years of obscenely high stress. I could get away with a mild cold, or I could die, there’s no way to predict. As a teacher it’s impossible to stay six feet from my students, in fact when I’m talking to a student one-on-one, I often have to lean in closer than normal to hear them through their mask. Going to work is a little like playing Russian roulette.
The junior high where I teach feeds into a high school that has been temporarily closed because of an outbreak, which means my students may have siblings who have been exposed. Most of the students are good about wearing their masks, but there are plenty who must be continually reminded to pull them up over their noses, and some who are constantly yanking them off altogether and whirling them on their fingers. I get it. I hate my mask too. I also hated spending the money to amass enough of a collection that I can make it from laundry day to laundry day without doubling up on what feels like underwear for my face. Some of my students only have one or two; is it any wonder they want to pull them off?
How do I protect my whole circle of loved ones in such an environment? I believe schools are playing a significant role in the spread of the virus, and looking solely from that angle it seems best to shut down and pivot to online learning. Yesterday I read that the teacher’s union is also looking at the numbers and asking the governor to shut junior highs and high schools from Thanksgiving through Christmas break, or until the numbers go down. I see the sense of their words, but then I look through my rolls at my 120 remedial readers, many of whom are missing assignments, even though they were present in class and I was circulating the room to keep students on task. I know that for a significant percentage of my own charges, “distance learning” will translate to “Whoohoo! School’s Out!” They were behind when we started the year, and school closure will certainly not improve matters.
I have been teaching both in-person classes and online students, and it has taken me a full quarter to coax half of my online learners to actually dig in and submit their work. It’s been a bit of a road getting that far, but some of my distance students have never logged in, and others have only turned in two or three assignments since school started. There is so little home support, that many of my in-person students will slide directly into that category, given half a chance. It scares me.
So, what is the answer?
I don’t know the solution, the governor of Utah doesn’t know, nor did either presidential candidate, Trump or Biden. But God does know. He knows all the loved ones I want to protect, perfectly clearly. He knows all my students by their first names, and understands the severe challenges that have driven so many into survival mode. He knows everything I’m trying to do, and exactly what I can and cannot accomplish. I know something about survival mode, and those years of obscenely high stress and turmoil that drove me to the brink of suicide, taught me a tremendously valuable lesson. God knows the one, by name, by nickname, by facial expression, and by heart. Because he knows the one so well, he can help that one, even when it seems utterly impossible.
The day I cast my vote, I already knew I would not get much of what I wished from the election. Too much division, too much fighting, too much wild spending, power mongering, and so much nastiness have all levied a hideous tax, grievous to be borne by the American people. But as all the world screams and screeches around me, I will retreat to my bedroom where I will pray for my family, my friends, and my students, asking that I will be able to clearly see what I can do, and trusting that God will make up the difference for what I cannot. Then I will go to sleep knowing that in all the grandeur of eternity, politics are paltry things indeed. All good citizens need to remember that.