About 15 minutes before the end of my last class of the day, an email was sent out. I saw it pop up on my computer, and I knew: our school was closing too. The students didn’t know yet – they were engaged in a discussion about how the government should best address the outbreak of covid-19 – but I knew that quickly they would know from other students passing by the classroom.
“I have to end this early,” I said to them. “We just got word that our school is going to close tomorrow, and I want to make sure I have time to say a few things to you.”
There were audible gasps, even though we’d all been expecting it. It was the second week of March and schools had been closing throughout the day, announcing that they weren’t coming back for at least a week or two. The atmosphere had been tense for days, and now that we all knew that school was going to be out, there was an air of relief, but also of fear and sadness.
“It is going to be okay,” I said. “I don’t know what is going to happen, but you are going to be okay.”
I mean, I was winging it. Who knows if it’s going to be okay? We were sitting in a circle, and every student was looking at me. Immediately, I thought about how things might really go badly, and how all of those kids – almost all of whom are seniors – might be in their last class with me, right at that moment. “I assume I’ll see you again in a few weeks,” I said, “but just in case, I want you all to know that teaching you was one of the best things that happened to me this year.”
I went on to recount some of the greatest moments of our time together and and tried to give a little speech that inspired them to feel okay about their futures. I saw a few of their faces twist with emotion, and I wasn’t sure if I should be talking like we’d never be in class together again.
But I had to say it. What if the worst played out, and we didn’t go back until the fall and then they were all off to college and I never got to directly say, “you guys were a great class. And you’ll do great things in this world.” What if they didn’t know I loved them?
The thing about being a widow is that my mind always skips to the worst-case scenario. I always imagine that the quarantine will last longer than it’s going to, I always think that someone I know might die, and I always picture the potential for a doomsday scenario.
I wasn’t always like this. In fact, for much of my life, I had a rosy view of the world. Things would be okay. Someone would take care of me.
Now I worry, worry, worry. I think I’ve managed not to become too obsessive about it, but if you’ve been reading my blog you’ll know that I was prepping for this disaster way before the stores were wiped of supplies. I’ve been running worst-case scenarios in my head for months.
Sometimes this is useful. My kids feel safe at home, because I’m prepared and they know it. My dad is back in Oregon, via a flight that occurred just before the seven-hour waits at the airport. And my students know that I love them because I got to tell them that in person (before we started meeting each other virtually for class.)
But I think my mindset sometimes freaks people out. Often when I talk to someone, I imagine that it could be the last time we talk. When I hang up with a member of my family, I make sure to say “I love you,” every single time, even if it’s with my dad and we’ve already talked 5 times that day.
I guess it’s just how I approach the world now. I know that bad things can happen at any point, and I don’t want to look back and think, “I didn’t tell them how I felt. I didn’t say the words.”
So now I do say them: I love you. You’ve changed my life. I miss you. You are wonderful.
I think they already know it. I think when I faced my class last month for the last time, my students already understood that we had a special bond. But I wanted to say it anyway.
Just in case.