As I write this a hurricane is moving toward Louisiana in a path that threatens cities and towns that are still reeling from hurricane Laura during the summer. We are feeling outer bands of wind and getting some rain where I am in Texas. The sky is dark and dreary. I’m making soup and feeling rather safe and cozy but my mind keeps drifting to those whose lives will be upended by the impending storm. It’s also on something even more somber, a message from a dear friend who has learned that a young man in the senior class of her son’s high school has died from suicide. Meanwhile my husband Mike received an email today with news that one of his high school classmates has died.
This has been an incredibly difficult year for so many. There are millions of distressing stories that we have not even heard. People have been sick. People have died. Homes have burned. Winds have destroyed houses and businesses. Millions are still out of work and wondering how much longer they will be able to hold on without losing everything. Teachers and students are struggling to keep schooling going in very difficult circumstances. We have witnessed injustice and protests. The F.B.I. uncovered an incredible plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. The political environment is filled with venom and division. Nothing feels right. We are no longer surprised by anything. We feel battered and numb.
We do our best to be as normal as possible. We explore ways to relax and to laugh and to celebrate small victories. Sometimes we find a quiet corner to meditate or even to shed a few tears. We may not have contracted Covid-19 or suffered from other health problems but we are mentally fragile and so are our children. They are quietly absorbing the stress that they feel, perhaps without really understanding their own emotions.
I am teaching mathematics to eleven different students during the course of each week. They vary in age from about fourth grade to high school. They delight me and fill me with joy each time that I see their beautiful faces on the screen of my laptop. We try to laugh and forget about the world around us during our time together but sometimes reality creeps into our discussion. We digress from math for a few minutes to talk of something that matters more.
Recently one of my kids quietly mentioned that someone in his school had Covid-19. It was apparent that he was a bit worried so we talked about the virus and how it is spread. I mentioned precautions that he might take and he assured me that he was following the protocols. I tried to be honest without frightening him because he was already quite nervous about what is happening. He thanked me for talking with him and said that his father had told him similar things. He greatly admires his father and views him as one of the smartest men in the world. I liked that he is able to talk about his feelings with his dad.
It is unlikely that our difficulties will all be solved anytime soon. Winter is coming and with it will be bouts with colds and the flu as well as a possible resurgence of Covid 19. There will be an election that will bring who knows what kind of reactions. Our holidays may look different. There will still be deaths and unexpected events. We have to find ways to keep hope alive, ways to laugh, ways to care for ourselves. We also have to protect our children whether they be toddlers or teens or twenty somethings. They are watching and being affected by everything that happens. Talk with them just as that father so lovingly spoke with his son. Help with their fears without making light of them. Talk with them no matter how tired you may be or how grouchy they may be. Make certain with every fiber of your being that they fully understand how much they are loved.
Make the most of small things. A walk around the neighborhood can be more comforting than an elaborate outing. Making cookies together and talking about feelings keeps helps our young people to know that their concerns are normal. Sometimes a hug is worth a thousand words. It only takes a few minutes to show how much you care.
I think of the young man who took his life and it tears out my heart. I would urge every parent, every adult to watch for signs that someone in your circle is not doing well. Watch for the cries for help, remembering that sometimes they are so very subtle. Depression manifests itself in countless ways. Many times the person who is laughing the most is dying inside. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Somebody you know may be sending signals even now. Be aware of them and then reach out to comfort them or even urge them to seek professional guidance.
Be kind in every way. That person who seems so angry or lazy or insulting may actually be dealing with issues that are all consuming. If you are a teacher watch for these things in yourself and in your students. If you are a parent keep the love and the communication flowing. If you are a friend reach out to anyone who appears to be lonely or hurting. We need each other and nothing, absolutely nothing, should be more important than taking that extra moment to reach out a hand in a spirit of love.