“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 together.
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