On Saturday we helped our youngest daughter pack up, clean, and move out of her first dorm room. It was a beautiful, but sad day, because the last time she was there, March 6, was the beginning of her spring break. On the ride home that day she informed us there had been talk of extending spring break for one to two weeks. Then came the governor’s shelter-in-place orders, followed by the official university emails informing students that instructors would take one week to set up online courses, and then the semester would begin again, March 23, until coursework and exams finished May 7. For some students this was simply an extended spring break bonus, and for some parents, a delight, to have their children back at home earlier than they had anticipated, but at our home there was mainly dreadful disappointment.
While she’s had a very positive attitude, and completed assignments diligently, Nod can’t quite shake the feeling that her whole life has been interrupted, including an excellent first year at university, many new friendships, the excitement and pride of independence, relationships with dedicated and passionate professors in classes and labs that just do not translate well to on-line format, and all the joys of being a young adult who fiercely embraces the life she is building. As I watched her stare, stone-faced, out the window at her college town and then the disappearing mountain views, I knew no platitudes would comfort, no cliches or lessons on life’s disappointments would enlighten, and no distracting chatter on what she can look forward to this summer would delight her. With all her belongings stacked to the roof of our Nissan, it was best to just ride quietly and let her think, let her reflect, let it sink in.
She will learn, as we all do eventually, that this let-down feeling is just part of life that everyone, if they live long enough, experiences, and it comes in so many ways – a tiff with a friend, not making the team, a poor grade, a deceit, a betrayal, loss of position or possessions, and as we have heard all too often over the last month, loss of health, wealth, the end of dreams, life and hope.
I’d like to tell her, in the scheme of things, she probably won’t feel this way long. I’d like to say, “Look on the bright side and count your blessings. Many people have lost much more than a few weeks on campus with their favorite subjects and classmates.” I’d like to remind her that in August she’ll move into her first apartment with three of her new friends, and even if classes are online, her independent life will resume, but I can’t. I mustn’t. She must feel the weight of this bit of loss to learn that it won’t crush her. She’ll discover she can survive it, and feel joy during it. She will become light again, as time passes, and she begins to hope, and this is how she, and we, find peace, even in times of tremendous disappointment.
There will be other let-downs, other losses, other shadowed valleys that she must navigate, must negotiate, and this great pause will give her some of the resilience needed in those times. For now, it is enough to know that besides the degree work she is completing, she is gaining an invaluable lesson in patience and persistence that will enable her to return to the mountaintop, and once again soar across the Blue Ridge.