By Samantha McGowan
Winter is not my season. I have a touch of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. For me, mine comes with winter and goes with spring. It’s not so much the cold, but rather the lack of sunlight that gets to me. It was so bad for me this winter, I had to run away to Arizona in the middle of January just to go to the desert and lay in the sun for three days.
Least to say, I have been not-so-patiently waiting for spring to arrive. I had big plans for spring. Since winter likes to hold on extra-long in Montana, I was going to use my host site’s spring break as an opportunity to, once again, run away to the desert to lay in the sun. I’d been dreaming about it since the moment I’d gotten back from my mid-January trip.
I was excited, too, for the last few months of school. I would be finishing up my 6th grade program, starting my 2nd grade program on insects and pollinators – a curriculum I had put my heart and soul into over the last month or two, and then finishing the year strong with the 3rd grade program. All the while, activity in the greenhouse would start ramping up in preparation for summer! We’d be starting dozens of trays of seeds and transplanting them every few weeks so that when the ground finally unfroze, we could start planting in the raised beds and in the greenhouse at the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship (CSE).
As February turned into March, I let myself sigh in relief. I had made it to spring. I felt the excitement of the sun and the greenhouse activity and all of my programs in the depths of my soul. I was ready for spring.
And then – you guessed it – COVID-19 brought it all to a screeching halt. School was shut down, travel plans had to be cancelled, and everyone was told to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
I’d been following the spread of the virus for a month and a half, so I wasn’t surprised when it finally made its way to our little corner of the world. But it didn’t really hit me until day 5 of my self-isolation: the realization of everything I lost and would lose because of this virus.
Above all else, I was concerned about being so far away from my family who are all located in various suburbs of Chicago. But once I was assured they were healthy and safe, my mind inevitably wandered to my canceled trip to the desert. I had been dreaming about the sun for months. It had been so close – my bag, in fact, was already packed – I could practically feel the sun against my skin.
Once I had adequately mourned the loss of the desert, my mind wandered back to the present state of things in Montana. It suddenly occurred to me like a punch in the gut – my programs! I wouldn’t be able to teach the rest of my 6th grade classes, and most likely my 2nd and 3rd grade programs would be cancelled!
It was a surprise to me how upset I was at this realization. You see, going into my service I all but scoffed at the idea of being a teacher. I never imagined enjoying teaching children. And then somewhere along the way I found myself confessing to a friend how much I adored my 5th graders. I found myself gushing: “They’re so smart and creative! And they understand sarcasm! They’re actually hilarious!” And then just last month I caught myself calling my 6th graders “my kids”.
So when the realization that I would be stripped of the honor of teaching the 2nd and 3rd graders hit, I felt what can only be described as grief.
It’s been interesting watching everyone I know deal with the virus via social media. I’ve noticed that everyone’s ah-ha moment of how this virus has affected all of our lives is different. For some, it’s having to postpone or completely cancel the vacation they spent months, maybe years, planning. For others, it’s having to suddenly become a stay-at-home parent who homeschools their children while also continuing to telecommute to their full-time job. For some, it’s having to postpone their wedding or anniversary. For many, it’s getting laid off because their job is in the service industry or in tourism.
It’s interesting how we are all in this together, but how it affects each of us in very unique and personal ways. Because I try to find the beauty in everything, I have also been watching how everyone is adapting in the wake of uncertainty. Although humans are creatures of habit and innately dislike change, we are incredible at adapting when we are forced to do so. Parents are spending unprecedented amounts of time with their children at home and thriving! People are realizing how much community means to them and are turning to technology to ensure they continue being a part of their community. Businesses are changing their business models on a dime and working tirelessly to continue providing services to their community.
I personally watched the Whitefish School District pivot away from their in-person schooling practices to online learning in a week. Laptops were distributed to families who didn’t have access to one, the local internet company gave two months of internet to students for free. School meals are still being distributed to families in need.
My service has changed as well. My programs will likely be cancelled when/if the students come back to school to finish out the school year, so I’ve had to adapt to be able to continue serving my community and host site in different ways.
My fellow Energy Corps member, Althea, and I decided that one of the best ways we can serve our community right now is to use our host site’s greenhouse to grow quick, 2-week crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other greens and distribute them to our community. So this week we spent much of our time in the greenhouse prepping beds, seeding and transplanting. In a couple of weeks we will be harvesting it all and donating it to the Food Bank so our community has access to healthy and locally-grown food. In addition, we hope to continue educating the community by switching to an online video format in the next couple of weeks!
Despite all the obvious good happening in the world, I still have moments of panic where my imaginative brain (fueled by having watched one too many apocalyptic movies) goes into overdrive and starts playing out all the worst-case scenarios. Which is normal, by the way. We are living in weird, hard, unprecedented times. But when I get to that dark place I look around at my community (via social media) and take notice of all the good coming from these strange times. It is truly uplifting to watch my community bend over backwards to support one another. And seeing people react with love and kindness instead of selfishness is how I get through those dark patches and realize it’s all going to be OK. We just have to adjust our expectations and react with love instead of fear.