From the tone of the voice on the other end of the phone, I knew it was time.
My youngest daughter, Molly, is an independent, resilient honor student at the University of Colorado. Her classes had already gone virtual, but she had decided to stick it out in her on-campus apartment for the remainder of the semester, despite the mass exodus of students, including her roommate, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But seeing lots of people in masks, hearing about vandalism in the area, and receiving an email from the university president telling everyone to go home immediately if they could, got her attention and ours. There was uncharacteristic anxiety, fear, and uncertainty in her tone, and it kicked my dad mode into high gear.
As a temporary measure, Molly went to stay with my sister, Heather, an elementary assistant principal in Denver (and her husband Gil) so she could be with family. As always, they welcomed her with open arms.
But at 3:30 the next morning, I left Austin with a U-Haul trailer in tow, along with a packed lunch and lots of coffee, snacks, and hand sanitizer, for a 32-hour roundtrip drive. I spent the entire drive up there talking to superintendents, state officials, other education association folks, and members of my own TASA staff as we all tried to find ways to support schools during this unfolding crisis.
The next day, we moved Molly out of her Boulder apartment, which was eerily empty and quiet, said thank-you to a custodial staff member she had befriended, and drove back to Austin, using epic amounts of hand sanitizer at the gas pumps and restrooms along the way. It was great to be with her in person; her uncertain tone and my anxiety eased a bit. I had my daughter with me. It was going to be OK. I relished the long talk with her on the drive home, intermittently interrupted by phone calls dealing with the crisis facing us back in Texas.
Molly, a reflective “old soul” said, “You know, Dad, I will always remember today. This is a historic time, and we will always remember this. I feel like my kids will read about this in history books one day. Thank you for coming to get me. I am so glad to be going home.”
So was I.
Both of my daughters are now at home with Page and me, as well as the eldest’s boyfriend (stuck here after a spring break visit – poor guy), a dog, and a cat. The nest is full again. All three college students and I are working remotely at my house, and I am rethinking the wisdom of our decision to downsize our home when the kids moved out.
We have all faced this crisis in very personal ways. Picking up Molly was one of mine. Although there has been stress for my family and coworkers, it doesn’t compare to that of countless children and families or elderly folks who are suddenly isolated and lonely, who don’t have food or shelter, or family to support them. It doesn’t compare to the stress of those who have already become ill or who have lost a loved one. It doesn’t compare to someone who has lost a job or is anxious about entering our economy as a new professional. My problems don’t compare in the least. But, no matter how great or small our individual problems are right now, we are going through something extraordinary together.
In a crisis, our true character shines through. Will our better angels reveal themselves, or will we turn inward from one another, acting selfishly by hoarding or price gouging, being rude to each other or turning deeper into hyper-partisanship? What I have seen, and been awed by, are the “better angels” of our educators — their true character shining through.
Superintendents and other school leaders have quickly organized their teams to feed their students and support their teachers and staffs, doing whatever it takes to put people first. Teachers are pivoting to online instruction with professionalism and creativity, finding new ways to support and engage their students, while showing their love and dedication with calls to and “parades” by their students’ homes.
The folks at TEA and the state have given of themselves mightily, too, working many extra hours to provide support to schools and remove barriers. Our education association friends and TASA Corporate Partners have also jumped into high gear to help in countless ways. Grocery store clerks, doctors, and nurses are selflessly putting themselves at risk to keep our country going. All of these people are generously helping others at a time when they, too, are dealing with personal and family struggles.
As we persevere through this global pandemic together, we are all challenged to find our own personal meaning in all of this, to be our best selves, and to help one another.
We can look to the “greatest generation,” who survived the Great Depression and World War II. They are perhaps the best exemplars of this in modern history. They faced tremendous challenges and sacrificed for the good of our nation. Their better angels came through loud and clear, and our nation thrived as a result.
Perhaps this is our defining moment. As Molly appropriately recognized: “We will always remember this.” I would add: “We will always be remembered for how we responded during this time.”
Although I would never wish this crisis on anyone, and I pray for all of us to remain healthy and safe, we now have opportunities to come together as a nation and give the best of ourselves. We can make the most of this time, both for ourselves personally and for our nation, and we can find meaning in this experience.
I am counting my blessings to have family, friends, and colleagues from whom I draw strength and can offer love and support in return. Each of you show me on a daily basis what it means to be selfless and loving in a world turned upside down. Please take care and let me know how I can support you.
What a blessing it is to be in your midst.