The arrival of the pandemic-era summer was a freewheeling mental battle between appreciation of health and stability, and an almost selfish disdain for a locked-in, isolated life that I had never imagined I would have to experience.
It is no secret in developmental psychology that young people in particular tend to be extraordinarily resilient. The pandemic continues to be an excruciating test, but one that we are well-equipped to pass. We will continue to protest while hunting for jobs in a decimated economy, and we will continue showing up to class, innovating, and adapting to a world we have very little control over.
For me, coronavirus has, at once, been a complicating and simplifying factor. The pandemic certainly complicated some aspects of my life. It has complicated relationships: I said goodbye to people for spring break not knowing that I might not see them for over a year, if not longer.
The rest of the semester, though emotionally extremely trying at every step, ended successfully. However, the long and hard path I planned for my summer made the incessant grind of my final semester at Washington University look small.
“This is a narrative of what it was like for those of us born in the thirties. Our parents had come from Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and many other southern states where the whites were perverse and inhuman in their treatment of blacks. But mostly they came from Mississippi. They came to the big cities armed only with glorious fantasies about a new and better world, hoping to find the dignity that had been denied them, hoping to find the self-respect that had been cut out of them. They came north, and we were the children born in the place they had escaped to—Chicago.”
I leave it to social historians to draw comparisons with other identity movements, but it can be hard to bridge the gap between accepting fatness in others and accepting it in yourself—and waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
It is strange; I am more scared after speaking than before. My stomach twists tighter as thoughts whirl. Will they revoke my scholarship for speaking out? Will I be targeted? Will I keep my job? My leadership position?
Is it activism yet?
What would it feel like to be quarantined with a parent who was stressed to the breaking point, symptoms flaring, but could not seek help, either because illness had them paranoid or because they were afraid they would lose custody of the one reason they stayed alive?
Maybe it was being mistaken for that other young man that fixed the incident in my mind for 35 years. Maybe it was the helplessness of an army’s search at sea, on rivers, and in the jungle. Maybe I am predisposed to worry over everything turning away in time, calmly.
When they were put up in the 1960s, the Kirwan-Blanding Towers were a confident bet on the future of the University of Kentucky and of the country and the world. Now, as they disappear, no one can be sure of what the future holds for American higher education, for America as a whole, or for the planet.