“It’s a small world.” This is something we say when in an
unexpected place we meet or hear about someone we know. I remember voicing that
very statement in London several years ago when my husband and I spotted a
display of peanuts from the Williamsburg Peanut Shop in Harrods Department
Store. Then there was the time I ran into a family from my music school in Williamsburg
during a trip to the Bahamas. It was unexpected, and it felt like the earth was
much smaller than its 25,000-mile circumference. Today, with the technology to
access people and news across the globe, the world seems small, indeed.
I will never forget the moment during junior high school
when I heard about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was a
chilly November day in 1963 when my principal, his voice shaking, announced it
over the intercom. At the age of thirteen, I felt like life as I knew it was
ending. Kennedy’s presidency had brought hope and optimism to our country, and
now he was gone. The future was uncertain and all US citizens, regardless of
party affiliation, joined in mourning tinged with fear. We didn’t have the
internet then, but we stayed glued to our TV sets for days.
I remember clearly the live television broadcast of Good Morning America that I was watching
September 11, 2001 as I dressed for work. The image of one plane, then another,
crashing into New York’s Twin Towers was surreal and paralyzing. Even the
anchor, Charles Gibson, was too stunned to speak for a moment. The earth
stopped and seemed to shrink in size as countries around the world weighed in
on this unspeakable tragedy.
We are in the midst of another such world-shrinking event,
one we will remember for the rest of our lives. My high school students, who
already have so much on their plates with schoolwork, exams, college prep,
athletics, and social issues must add concern about whether they or a loved one
will contract the virus. They are feeling like I did in 1963: worried, fearful,
and wondering if life will ever return to normal. Their school administration
and teachers are doing everything possible to ease their minds and accommodate
their learning until they can return to campus, but it’s a challenging time of
uncertainty, especially with wide access to media coverage.
So, how do we cope amid a pandemic? Last Friday, our
principal called an assembly to announce that the school would be closed for at
least two weeks. The students sat very still and quiet. As I glanced about the
auditorium, I observed that their body language and faces exhibited tension. It
was like they were afraid to look at each other, afraid or unable to react.
That Friday was supposed to be opening night for their musical, 42nd Street. The students had
worked tirelessly every day after school since January, and now their
performance was postponed until further notice. Other students learned that all
athletic activities were suspended, including a tournament, and my All-State
Chorus delegates soon heard that their event would not take place. Some of the
students began to weep silently in disappointment.
Amid their dismay, the most important statement by our
principal may not have sunk in, but it stood out to me. She said, “Remember, we
are people of faith.”
Ours is a Catholic school founded by The Sisters of Mercy.
We start every day with prayer; we hold monthly Masses; at each level, the
students are required to take theology; and every student must accumulate
service hours. Mercy Core Values underscore our curricula.
At the Upper School where I teach, our students are typical
high school students with all the typical high school behaviors. There are
cliques; there is boundary testing; there are negative attitudes and
inappropriate comments. Some get into trouble and receive demerits or attend
Saturday detention; some earn poor grades and must be put on academic support,
which might include dropping extracurricular activities. They are normal
American teenagers. The difference is not in the students we serve, but in the
learning environment we provide.
As a Mercy School, our faith education and service to the
community, both local and global, are at the forefront of everything we teach.
This faith-based education is evident in the way we handle issues and relate to
each other. That’s what the principal meant by “We are people of faith.” She
was saying that people of faith in God don’t need to panic or live in fear, not
because we are exempt from disease or suffering, not because we’re better than
people without faith, but because we have assurance that God walks with us
through all of life’s ups and downs, even a pandemic, and sustains us with His
unconditional love. We recognize that God is sovereign.
Our students may not yet be mature enough in their faith to
believe that they can cast all their cares on God, but we, the faculty and
administrators, are committed to modeling mature, merciful faith and
unconditional love for them. With God’s help, we will get through even this
Cindy L. Freeman is
the author of numerous award-winning short stories and three published
novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available
from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com