August 21, 2021
We have begun another school year battered and bruised but not broken by COVID-19. Vaccines now shield most of my colleagues and loved ones from hospitalization and death, even as the Delta variant, pandemic fatigue, and pathological politics have overwhelmed our hospitals and spread contagion in our schools. I remain resilient and resolute, but the pandemic tasks me.
He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.
I invoke Ahab’s and Khan’s word purposefully: this pandemic tasks me. For 18 months, helping my school district fight the pandemic has been my top priority. A relentless scouring of reliable sources for insights and expertise, with the continual collection and analysis of data, has guided the development of our protocols, all with tremendous support from across our district. So many have fought so long and so hard in these battles.
But instead of a mighty leviathan, we are fighting a scourge so tiny that one can debate if they are even alive, these genes that escaped their host all dressed up in a protein coat. They bear no inscrutable malice – the only evil arises from ourselves when we lose our grip upon the truth, when we fail to empathize, when we daunt our courage or engage in selfish, hypocritical, or destructive acts.
In the spirit of the times, much of my campaign has been electronic: countless virtual meetings and emails, lengthy district tallies of isolations and quarantines, and steadily accumulating data I gather and chart on the status of our struggle. They say amateurs talk strategy and professionals talk logistics. My talk has been of protocols, procedures, and pragmatism…tempered with compassion and fortitude.
Meanwhile, Wendy led the repair and servicing of our district Chromebooks as we expanded to provide one for every student, teacher, and administrator in the district. We made it through the dark winter to a brighter spring. And then one night in April, a policeman rang the doorbell to tell us we had lost Wendy’s mother. As Edie once sang, “There were hard times.”
But the pandemic subsided; district cases collapsed to single digits. As the school year ended, I took the opportunity to cleanse my Facebook profile of 12 years of posts, leaving behind only happy photos. We had a brief vacation atop a mountain in Arkansas. We visited my parents.
Alpha, beta, gamma…
Delta surged here in July. Less than a third of the people in our county are fully vaccinated, the CDC bungled its mask messaging yet again, and mandatory public health precautions have become a partisan political issue. So, a week into the new school year, we have more COVID-19 positive students than ever. I’m again leery of restaurant dining and travel; I’m back to wearing a mask in the schools. Angry parents say we’re doing too much or too little. I’ve started my second medication for hypertension.
It tasks me. So every Wednesday I post my local charts, and on Thursdays I post the broader update from trusted sources. I am blessed to see and hear the gratitude of those who follow the fight with me. I dream about the day when I can again cleanse my Facebook profile of this pandemic, leaving behind only photos from the Pathfinder Parkway.
We shall manage, we shall adapt, we shall overcome. But when will these battles end? When will we win the war? I have long held that herd immunity was an illusion, a dream undone by mistrust and ignorance. But the pandemic will surely end some day. When enough people have gained sufficient immunity either through vaccination or infection, it will not be eliminated, but it will become endemic.
Those who are most resistant to simple precautions will collectively fare the worst, but their lack of understanding and perspective will bring continued collateral damage and needless suffering. But I do find comfort in that all of the infections they promote do hasten the end.
Hospitalizations and deaths will eventually diminish, and boosters will re-up immunity for the wise. There will still be outbreaks, probably seasonally, but we will resume more normal, albeit changed, lives. As Sarah Zhang wrote, “The coronavirus is not something we can avoid forever; we have to prepare for the possibility that we will all get exposed one way or another.” My loved ones and I will be prepared for that.
We are exposed to four common coronaviruses as children. The resulting disease is mild, and we are likely reinfected every so often, which merely updates our immune response. This fifth coronavirus will eventually assume its position on that hand we are dealt.
I am no Ahab, and our district is not the Pequod. It tasks me, but it shall not destroy me. Our ship is not doomed, and its mission is based on service, not revenge. As I have shared on Facebook and across the district:
When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.
Adjust your sails. Welcome and support those who follow your lead, and be a light, not a judge, for those who follow a different and darker path. They may yet turn and seek the light…let it shine from you.