Our Children Are Hurting

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Our world is hurting. Our nation is hurting. Our people are hurting. Humanity is weary and anxious. We are many different cultures with different concerns but for one moment in time the specter of Covid-19 unites us in the realization that a virus has the power to upend us with the force of an army. It has no special regard for prime ministers or presidents. Any of us might succumb to its invasive determination to use our bodies for its own survival. Covid-19 has changed the way we do things, changing our routines and traditions and threatening our sense of freedom and control. It has left us divided and angry, spilling over into our workplaces, schools and even houses of worship. 

We are tense and argumentative with one another. We want to control our destinies but we disagree on how that should be done. Only hindsight will prove beyond a doubt who among us has had the right answers and who has been very wrong. For now we use our reasoning and our emotions to decide how to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm, and some of us even argue that our concerns about Covid-19 are ridiculously overblown. They insist that if we simply ignore the virus, take our chances, we are more likely to become universally immune. 

We cling to scientific data or stories that seem more like superstition. Our reactions spill over into how we want to be led, what we are willing to personally do to stall the spread of the disease. While we may attempt to simply carry on as usual from day to day Covid-19 is always lurking in the background. Just as we become more relaxed we hear of an uptick in cases near us or learn of a friend or family member who is fighting for life in the hospital. All the while our emotions are tested again and again. Our disagreements become feuds, our feuds lead to disruptions of once treasured relationships. All the while we pretend that we are okay even as we know with certainty that we are not.

Our young see this and because we are attempting to shelter them we sweep our fears aside. We think that being as normal as possible will reassure them until we learn, often by accident, just how anxious they actually are. We find that they need to talk. They need to express the sadness that is washing over them, the sorrow that they do not understand, the oppressive feeling that somehow we will never be the same again.

I am retired from teaching, and yet I am not. I have been unable to fully walk away from educating the young. I am unable to endure the rigors of the sixteen hour days that most full time teachers experience, but I enjoy having interactions with students for a few hours each week. There are ten young men and women with whom I interact on a regular basis. Sometimes the most learning occurs not in an hour long lesson about mathematics but in a five minute discussion of feelings. Almost always such conversations lead to revelations about their fears and for now those fears center on the uncertainties created by Covid-19. 

If we have no other reason to work together to address this pandemic it should lie in our desire to protect our children. While the virus itself has thankfully had a somewhat minimal impact on the physical health of our young, it has profoundly affected their mental health. Whether they continue to learn remotely or have returned to a face to face encounter with their teachers and their peers they are feeling the tension and divisiveness that is ripping through the adult world. In the worst case scenarios it is causing them to break down mentally, and their depression presents itself in many different ways. It is not always obvious that a young person is in the depths of darkness. Sometimes the only clues are falling grades or temper tantrums or risky behaviors. 

It is important that we have very honest conversations with the children. We have to do more than just take their temperatures each day. We should be allowing them to voice their concerns with impunity. We should be willing to find counseling for them if their sorrow is extreme. Sometimes just talking with a professional makes all the difference. At the same time we must be aware that all of our anger toward one another is only adding fuel to the fires of confusion that are haunting the youngest among us. We ourselves must admit that we have become a nation in the throes of depression, a world filled with more questions than answers. Ignoring the realities around us is infecting our minds in troubling ways. 

Our children need to feel secure. They need to see us respecting and embracing one another, not constantly quibbling. We must demonstrate that we are caring people whose only goal right now is to work in a spirit of love and cooperation to ensure the safety of everyone. As adults it’s time to set aside our differences and step up to our responsibilities. This should not be a game or a contest of wills. It should not focus on winning and losing. Our children are hurting and the cure will only be found in working with one another. We all need to heal.