Embracing The Loss of Business As Usual

I have been in mourning. Deep, unmistakable and heartfelt mourning. I have had trouble focusing on work (essential educational work being done from home), and significant trouble sleeping. I have shed tears intermittently (as various losses have been experienced), but then quickly recovered in a sincere effort to maintain focus on the work related tasks at hand or to keep up a brave face for my immediate family and friends. Of course I realize that putting off my grieving until a time in which it will be more convenient is damaging, but honestly this has all been almost too much to bear and it may be healthier to process grief in smaller doses, over time.

Educators have always been heroes and exist among the greatest of all those who serve the needs of others. Now more than ever, educators are essential workers who have a unique obligation to let our lights so shine, so that our students/families might know that they are valuable, protected from harm, appreciated and loved. I am an educator to my natural core and yet for the past several weeks I have only been able to go through the motions and perform the most basic components of my job. Nothing feels quite real anymore. The entire Coronavirus and COVID-19 reality haze seems like a Sci Fi nightmare . . . except that it’s painfully real. Far too real a nightmare here in Detroit. People are sick, suffering and dying in astronomical numbers and there’s no question that nothing will ever be quite the same.

I know how important writing is for me. Despite this it’s been useless trying to process this level of grief in a coherent, written form. For me, writing has never been a chore, it operates like an essential form of therapy – a sort of soul, spirit outpouring – which allows me a healthy avenue to express what’s inside – no matter how raw and unfiltered. Except that since early March, there’s been so much foreign matter inside that I’ve had no means of processing it (much less attempting to express myself in writing). I admire my fellow blogging comrades and colleagues who I’ve seen churn out piece after piece, as a sort of testament to the strength of their health and the benefits of this craft. For me there have been no journals, no blog posts, very little human interaction (by both choice AND force) and it’s literally been all that I can do to just find the simple joys in each day. I look for something, no matter how minuscule to celebrate and give thanks for in each day. I have done this for my own well-being and sense of normalcy. Because it’s my very nature to be joyful, optimistic and give thanks even for the small rays of sunlight in a dark, cavernous pit. Except that in my 40+ years, nothing has ever been quite so dark, so endlessly cavernous and so very depressing without the slightest hope of relief or the healing warmth of the sun.

Work has been harder than ever. I’m still able to teach (online) and somehow creating curriculum and sharing the innate joy I have always had for teaching and learning is still easy for me, even at this most difficult of times. Teaching has been a wonderful, welcome diversion and like second nature; a healing balm and a blessing indeed. I pray that our collective work (as the rank and file front line of educators, who are still working from home), has been equally fulfilling while somehow serving as an inspiration to our students who are still very much entitled to benefit from the endless joys of learning. But at the same time, the thought of being anything other than our glorious, authentic selves at this pivotal time is truly unthinkable. The thought of being anything other than somber, angry, sad, grief stricken and wounded has been virtually impossible in the presence of and in collaboration with those around us who still somehow seek to perpetuate an illusion of superiority and power. Sigh . . . I welcome an end to all play acting and the abrupt halt to the collegial facade which dictates that people in power have a right to abuse such powers as a means to wield punitive measures and systemic harm all while masking their own insecurities and lack. I can’t wait for people to rise up and demand an end to the madness of feigned superiority. No more, over, the end.

That’s what this virus is (or at least what it feels like), the end. The end of the innocence of our youth, the end of pomp, circumstance, ceremony and future aspirations for those of us who are mature and/or idealistic in nature. This unprecedented time in history marks the end of life as we know it in so many significant ways. Ultimately, we must all come to embrace the absolute end of all business as usual. For that I initially grieved deeply and looked for ways to summon the strength to continue to rebuild anew. However , after some deep thought and consideration I have come to realize that the reality of nothing going back to normal is in some ways, a blessing and something to celebrate. After all, normal wasn’t really working for us anyway, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves. There was so much in our lives that required shaking up, change and permanent reform and/or disruption that I suppose there had to be an end to life, as we once knew it, for us to regenerate the earth, restore the health of our environment and bodies and to cleanse the very toxic energy of our souls/spirit. As for me, I welcome the unvarnished truth in all things. The return to things simple and a kind of forced vulnerability which renders each of us as universally traumatized and equally receptive to the forging of authentic relationships and living.

The only caveat is why so much death among my people, Black people in particular, for massive change to be wrought? Of course the technical answers all fall short – for failing to scarcely acknowledge the systemic racism and deep inequities that marginalized us as a people in pre-COVID reality. Here in Detroit, there are so many people (Black people) – young, middle aged, old, poor, working class, wealthy, pre-existing conditions and completely healthy – who have already succumbed to this virus in increasingly record numbers, that I/we can’t help but to continue to reel from the very real loss and grief being experienced by so many of us. No longer is education falsely denoted as the great equalizer – but rather loss, the sting of death, permanent shifting of our consciousness and the degree to which we are all rendered powerless – has become the greatest equalizer of the year 2020.

On the last day that I left the house for work, Thursday March 12, 2020, the virus was already at the forefront of our news. The risk was already seemingly palpable and the threat of great change was looming large overhead. Still, I reported to one of the countless, densely populated local high schools, to collaborate with like-minded professionals and to meet with the intention of exploring literature circles and novel study as a complement to an existing English Language Arts curriculum implementation plan. How utterly meaningless an agenda in our current reality. On this Thursday, I was conscious of the need to keep a healthy distance from others even as I met, planned and collaborated with the other educators in the meeting space. I was focused on the task at hand, but still cognizant of the fact that my daughter’s state college had cancelled all classes on the previous day and seemingly overnight, students had been packing up and leaving for their homes in droves. My pensive daughter was anxiously awaiting my own arrival after the conclusion of my workday, so much of my focus that day was already in flux and justifiably so, considering that this was the eerie definition of the veritable calm before the storm.

While it was then (and still is), painfully clear that danger was afoot and that a change from business as usual was necessitated – there was truly no conception of just how bad things would soon get. There was still little preparation or thoughtful acknowledgement that this would technically be my last time outside of my own home for any extensive length of time and that all work/school and daily errands would soon become figments of our imagination of past lives rather than components of our everyday realities. How to predict that dozens of lives lost would soon morph into hundreds even thousands of fallen, unsuspecting people and the death rate keeps climbing day by day. This reality is truly unchartered territory. Everyday is like a progression deeper into the abyss of the unknown. But still, all I know to do is to accept the unknown as it manifests and to be open and receptive to what the universe is teaching us right now. We have no choice but to embrace the loss of business as usual. Blessings, love and light to us all!

Asé

Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

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