On March 6, we were still shaking hands. Students were finishing their last day of classes before heading out on their much-anticipated spring break. Many were heading home and others were going to help with tornado relief in Tennessee. On March 6, we had no idea how much our world would change before the end of the month.
The following Thursday, because of concerns relating to COVID-19, we instructed students not to return to campus after break. Their semester would continue online. Then, on March 19, we made the heartbreaking announcement that we would not resume on-campus classes for the remainder of the spring semester. Spring Sing 2020 was pushed back for a full year, and May commencement was postponed until August. It is still difficult to absorb how much our semester — how much our entire world — changed after March 6.
When I spoke to the Harding family on video via Instagram and email, I shared with everyone what, to me, was the most helpful analogy at that confusing moment. Ann and I have a granddaughter who lives in Montana. Maggie is now 20 months old, and since her birth we have had a special family ritual at Maggie’s bedtime each night. We facetime her, and Ann, who has a beautiful alto voice, sings a lullaby to Maggie. When I reflect on those tender moments, I am always reminded of two words that seem to pull my heart in opposite directions. Those two words are the same ones I find battling in my heart these days when I think of this semester at Harding — thankfulness and longing.
Thankfulness. Ann and I are so thankful that we live in a time when we can see our granddaughter’s face and hear her voice before she goes to sleep each night. Not too many years ago, such a connection was unimaginable. In a similar way, I am so thankful we can continue this semester online. Because of the technology we have access to, we are able to continue the classes that were half finished. There is, indeed, so much for which to be thankful.
Longing. However, the technology that allows us to see our granddaughter each night leaves us with a sense of longing. We ache to hold her in our arms, kiss her little cheeks and nuzzle her hair. That also is how it is with this at-a-distance semester. We can connect in so many ways, but we are still left longing to speak face-to-face.
On March 6, we were still shaking hands. Now we are scattered all over the world. We are so thankful for the connections we still have, but we long for the time when we can hug and laugh and sing and cry together, remembering the thankfulness and longing that marked the spring semester of 2020.