By Kyle Riecker, Guest Contributor
The last day of ground operations at Utica College was solemn. I packed my belongings and headed for the parking lot, not knowing when the next time I would be on campus again.
As I checked and double-checked my UC office to be sure I had all the essential items for working from home, I noticed a copy of The Tangerine on the conference room table. It read “UC at ‘near-zero’ risk as coronavirus spreads.” That headline did not age well.
That’s how rapidly things went from being “OK” to a national emergency in 2020 — even experienced journalists, health professionals and others were caught off guard by the quick and devastating spread of the virus.
I gave my cherished reading spot in my quiet corner of the college one last look, and then set off, knick knacks and plants in tow.
Now after more than a month with nearly no physical contact with the outside world, I am faced with new challenges and fears. After all, toilet paper rationing and getting a really short haircut were not among my New Year’s resolutions.
Working, studying, home-schooling, and plenty of worrying- – you can say I’m doing everything from home these days. And while working remotely relieves much of the concern about contributing to the virus’ spread or contracting it, my new life has an odd cadence that I’m still learning how to keep time with.
I took on a new-found role of TA for a very bright kindergartner, and vicariously, I am re-living the simpler times of being in kindergarten. If counting how many frogs on the lily pads were my only concern, then send me back, Billy Madison style. Meanwhile my daughter is absorbing some beginning Spanish from my last core class, so we are learning together.
She has questions of her own, and it’s hard to answer candidly without scaring her. What’s coronavirus? How long do we have to stay home for? When will I see my friends again? What happens if mom and dad die?
I share her questions and have so many others which may or may not be rational: Should I trust the government or the media? Are these seasonal allergies or am I going to end up intubated? Will my parents be OK? Why is the My Pillow guy at a presidential press conference and is Vince McMahon really going to be the point person for re-opening the economy? Did I hit my head and is this whole experience a concussion-induced delirium?
My questions go on, and turn over again and again in my head at night, like a BINGO tumbler except every ticket drawn is something terrible and apocalyptic.
Aside from existential dread and feeling like this is a bad episode of “Black Mirror,” I have much that I am thankful for, and I know many are a lot worse off.
I am first and foremost thankful for my family’s health, and for my own health, and for being connected to others online through McLuhan’s Global Village. Sharing similar experiences and struggles with others has brought some relief to the isolation.
I am grateful for Utica College and their leadership and communication, and moreover, I am thankful to be employed when millions in this country have been laid off. I have the unique opportunity to support the college and its mission during its most trying times, even if it’s done from my kitchen countertop.
Working from home has its perks: My commute is considerably shorter, and on nice days my lunch breaks consist of long walks with my daughter. We explore the muddy fields and willow tree-lined gullies behind our property, observing what dares to poke through the brown facade of early spring.
My new office mate is a real slacker, though.
And sometimes my office is transformed into a scene from south Florida during spring break.
The downsides of working from home are that everything kind of melds together; work, breaks, meals, school, and sometimes I have a hard time remembering how long this has been going on for or even what day it is. It feels like when the Krusty Krab stayed open for 24 hours a day and everyone went a little batty.
Home life is tame compared to the sheer terror of visiting the grocery store or trying to pick up a prescription, though. I’ve never been a fan of large gatherings or crowds to begin with, and this pandemic has magnified that anxiety twentyfold.
Venturing out has become extremely socially awkward. The other day I went on my bi-weekly supply run to Walgreens, and the lady in front of me (six feet distance of course) was at the checkout. We made eye contact and I smiled at her politely. I later realized that my mask hid my smile and it translated into a creepy, stone faced gaze.
It almost feels premature to write anything further about this experience, because we are very much in the thick of this crisis. The light at the end of the tunnel is a dim glow at best, with plenty of uncertainty obscuring the view.
When all is said and done, the pandemic of 2020 will have put nearly everything in perspective and I hope we will all be a little wiser, kinder and appreciative of things once taken for granted.
Until the day the world returns to normal, I hope everyone holds onto the good in life and cherishes the seemingly insignificant moments that we are blessed with. We must carve a resolute path forward, one that doesn’t allow the virus to be the defining moment of 2020 or our generation, rather the catalyst for a collective realization of how to care better for others and ourselves.