A Middle Schooler on the Lessons of COVID-19

I Now Understand that the Uncertainty of the Pandemic Mirrors the Uncertainty of Life

Solomon and Lucia Metcalfe at the Santa Barbara Middle School Rites of Passage ceremony, June 12, 2020 | Credit: Colin McNulty/SBMS

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On June 12 in a small Rites of Passage ceremony attended by families appropriately spaced in an outdoor amphitheater, 9th grader Lucia Metcalfe graduated from Santa Barbara Middle School. This essay was one of her last assignments in Honors English.

In February, when I got the email that school on campus was canceled, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t even sure if I held the capacity to be surprised anymore. Everything had dulled in comparison to the weight of the world.

As I scrolled through social media, I felt a constant tug at my heart, seeing the struggle and the fight that so many were experiencing. It felt distant, like looking through fogged glass; blurry, muffled, obscure. My life had not flipped upside down as I had expected it to. I felt removed from the suffering; I could see it, but as though through glass, I could not touch it. The numbness I felt was pierced by an icy cold fear as I looked through photos of families, together in quarantine. The distance between members of my own family currently spanned nearly the distance across America, and I could feel the thousands of the miles like a chord stretched too tight.

At 11 p.m. on February 29, my brother arrived home. I released a breath I had been holding for far too long. No matter what, at least we were all in it together. That felt like the only constant in this whirlwind of uncertainty. And as the whirlwind picked up speed, it became a wild hurricane. Yet one thing remained the same: I felt ever-increasingly more grounded in my family.


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The ambiguity and unpredictability of it all sparked many questions, and I, being very curious myself, was often one to voice them to my family. I have come to realize that my sense of stability and groundedness is defined by the people around me and my understanding of the situation.

For such a hugely impactful situation, you would think there would be more answers out there. Sadly, there were not. In fact, there was so much uncertainty, that most of my questions were met by information that fueled, yes, even more questions.

The most challenging part of this for me was the timeline, or lack thereof. My assessment of things is always with a methodical and meticulous schedule, crafted with the end in mind, and, in this case, there wasn’t one. At least not one we could see.

The day I received an email from my newly assigned counselor at Santa Barbara High School, I was met by yet another question. Would I even be able to return to school in the fall?

I voiced this question to my mom and was met by a gaze filled with so many things I could hardly process it. In that moment, time stood still. I could feel the morning light hitting my face and the hardwood floor beneath my feet. I felt the weight of the gaze on my shoulders, so heavy I had to sit down.

I don’t know. I don’t know when you’ll return to school. I don’t know when quarantine will end. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I then understood that this uncertainty was truly the only source of certainty in life. We never know when our lives might end, or when we might be changed forever. This powerful metaphor drove me to an understanding that I truly believe will change the way I live from now on.

I will leave you with a question (my favorite): In the face of the unknown, how will you choose to see — with uncertainty, or with a fierce determination to welcome each day as a beginning, no matter if the end is in sight or millions of miles in the distance?


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