“I’m not sure how much more of this I can take …”
Those words came from my youngest son a few days ago, as he struggled through a particularly uninspiring virtual class this winter. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. He knows it. I know it. And we both know there isn’t anything we can do about it, at least in the short run.
Shortly after that conversation with my college sophomore, I was on a call with several of my peers at schools around the country. The usually animated group was subdued and seemingly burdened. Said one, “I am restructuring my role because I can’t keep doing this otherwise.” Later the same day, in a meeting with our Student Services team, we focused on the needs our kids are articulating from afar. While being here presented its share of constraints this fall and winter, being away brings with it another set of challenges. “I need to know when this will end,” said one student, “so I can get back to my life.”
There is everywhere this fundamental question of sustainability, all of it revolving around our tolerance—or lack thereof—for the current state of affairs. Just how much can we endure? And what lies on the other side of this pandemic? The world we used to know or something else? Something less, perhaps?
My grandparents were born around 1900 and lived through a pandemic, two world wars and The Great Depression. I never asked them how they did it, or if they fretted or worried or wondered how they might make it through. I’m sure they did. But I know they never took anything for granted, seemed to relish every minute and betrayed no signs that they somehow got a raw deal. My wife has a pillow she keeps by our bed on which is embroidered, “Remember the little things because eventually you discover they are actually the big things.” That’s how my grandparents lived, at least by the time I came on the scene.
Which makes me think, despite the burdens we all carry, that we can actually answer the very questions we keep asking ourselves. Especially the ones that deal with the things we control. How much longer can we sustain our resolve? Keep our spirits up? Protect our health and well-being?
As long as we have to.
Human beings are not wired to accept limits—especially ones imposed from without. We push ourselves, each other, potential impediments, anything that gets in our way. And we do it not out of arrogance but out of faith. We seem to know, despite our many faults and fears and insecurities, just how much lies within each of us—how much strength, how much hope, how much grit.
This has been a marathon, and there is more to endure still. But awareness comes in the struggle. And sustainability is not a question. It’s our nature.