My parents’ house has never been what one would call “quiet.” Three kids with strong personalities will certainly make things interesting. Even now that I, the youngest, am passing through college, and my brother and sister are making their way at their ‘grown-up’ jobs, my house is not the empty nest that my parents were expecting to have at this point in their lives. Saturday, March 14, I arrived home to Minnesota with several bags of belongings to a house with six other people, only three of whom are of immediate relation. For extraneous reasons we have some cousins and a significant other staying with us in addition to both of my parents and my sister. While I was glad for some extra time with my family, I had plenty of other feelings about the situation. I felt angry. I came home because my college wasn’t allowing students to stay due to the increasing threat of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States. Big moves like that which have serious repercussions are not made lightly, so why, when I had to leave school in order to properly practice social distancing, was my house so full of people that it would be impossible?
The day after my arrival back in Minnesota, my immediate family––my parents and sister––went to church. The pews were barren. Scant clusters of families were scattered throughout the church in order to maintain this new “social distancing.” It is amazing how fast church is when there are so few people there, with no sign of peace and no singing whatsoever. Rather than feeling reprieve for the stress I had just been thrown into, I left church feeling the weight of the situation sink in.
In spite of the solemn mass, my family continued our Sunday as usual: with family dinner. Normally, my maternal grandparents and my mom’s sister’s family come over for dinner each Sunday to socialize and enjoy community. This was, more or less, just like any other Sunday, except for the fact that my grandpa––whose health is less than optimal––refused to come. While part of me wanted to be offended that my grandpa didn’t want to come, another, stronger part wished that more people in my family were taking things as seriously as he was.
In the days that followed, the gravity of the situation set in. The archbishop of St. Paul closed all of the archdiocese’s churches. My family struggled to find frozen fruit for smoothies, coffee creamer, canned soup and bread. My dad and sister had to begin working from home because their offices were closed to all except essential personnel. My younger cousin, an art student, entered into an extended spring break while her school frantically assembled online curriculum. Even though I was technically on spring break, I was struggling to finish drafts for my capstone, African politics and lifeview papers, as well as get ahead on homework I’d need to complete for my first week of online class.
Soon enough, there were five people working under the same roof during the day. Every spare tabletop in the house was covered with various people’s work. Focus was difficult to maintain as each person in the house collectively went on business calls or loudly typed to answer an email. It seemed that everyone realized, almost collectively, that something had to give. It was also right around this time that my older cousin and his significant other moved out into their own apartment. While this eased some of the rising tensions in the house, we needed to figure out the whole working situation. Everyone had to designate their space and keep to it. This was no time to be shy or get all wishy washy about things. As hard as it was to realize, my family is also my new set of coworkers, and if something isn’t right, I have to say so.
There is also the difficulty of being a student at home. Home is the place where a lot of students can feel at ease. The burden of being a student is lifted when you’re home because, usually, it’s because you’re on break. Now, the sanctity of home for me is mostly gone. The peace that I, along with many other college students, felt at home has been replaced with the stress of school and deadlines and group projects and research. I feel incredibly guilty when I have to excuse myself after family dinner to go do homework or miss it altogether because I have class, but that is our new reality. My family, despite wishing that I was able to spend more time with them, have been understanding of my predicament as I hope everyone else’s quarantine buddies have been as well.
Despite the constant flow of work (even more than I had at Hope, if you can imagine), there has been extra time that I normally filled with school activities, that I can now dedicate to watching “The Great British Baking Show” with my parents or working on our fifth jigsaw puzzle. Even though school just got a whole bunch harder, and the finish line seems to constantly be moving backwards, perspective is key. While we may not have expected things to turn out the way that they did, it is my hope that you and I can make the most of the situation we’re in, and that means finding joy in the midst of this mess. I wasn’t too keen to be cooped up in a house brimming with people, but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: however difficult it may be to try and find happiness while the world around us crumbles, looking for the good is far more productive than concentrating on the already apparent bad. In parting, I wish you blessings, health and gratitude. Keep safe and stay well.
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