In Sickness and in Health

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 23 seconds

This part of marriage vows “in sickness and in health” that I hear in movies and TV shows… we don’t have these in the words said at a Muslim marriage/wedding ceremony. We don’t spell it out… but they’re on my mind right now as I think of what is happening these days with institutions and rising COVID cases. We’re in our winter semester, so we won’t know for sure whether we’re f2f in the Spring (starting end of January) or some other something that we haven’t given a name to yet.

The “in sickness and in health” is on my mind, because it kind of feels like… since the beginning of the pandemic, the whole thrust of all energy has gone towards “continuity no matter what” and “continuity in sickness and in health”. Basically, that we are expected to give our institutions whether we are sick or healthy in this pandemic… and whether the institution is sick or healthy, whether our students are sick or healthy. And the frustration of all of it is, but what are our institutions giving us back? Do our institutions have our back, in sickness and in health, are our institutions trying to protect our bodies from physical illness and maintain our mental health?

Because the commitment for “in sickness and in health” needs to not only be mutual and reciprocal, but it also needs to be a commitment to try to maintain the other’s health. Not tolerate them in sickness when we could have prevented that sickness in the first place.

Out of all the things that make this pandemic difficult, it is the constant uncertainty. It’s the not knowing when I go to work tomorrow who from my colleagues might actually be there. It’s the not knowing until the last minute whether my child’s school will be online or in person. It’s the sudden news that someone somewhere needs me to be somewhere different than where I thought I’d be… and I have two hours to figure out how to do it differently.

At this point, all I want from every institution I have to deal with is a pathways plan: this is what we will do if X happens, this is what we will do if Y happens, this is what we will do if Z happens. I know they already have these plans. I don’t know why they aren’t communicating them to us. I understand that X, Y and Z are dynamic. I don’t think the actions planned need to be hidden from stakeholders. I also don’t think the actions planned need to be decided upon behind closed doors – there could be more transparency here. Transparency on underlying values (even if those values are “stay open because some higher power says so, and until they un-say-so our hands are tied”).

And wouldn’t it be great to also give people some ownership and agency, some sense of control, over their own destiny. In the midst of all this uncertainty and lack of control over so many dimensions of our lives, I would just love to have control over one thing. Just ONE little thing. And I have not yet found that thing. I wish that thing were even my own mood, but that one’s spiraling out of control on a regular basis, too.

I think the happiest I’ve been throughout this pandemic is August 2020 when I co-curated the community-building resources at https://onehe.org/equity-unbound because it helped me deal with the frustration of hearing everyone say “but you can’t build community online” not by yelling at them “of course you can!” but by giving them the resources and tools to try it. I used all the resources I had, to give something back to the world that I think the world needed so much at the time. Sounds very arrogant, but I am just grateful I could be useful at that time, and I am grateful I knew what I knew and who I knew to make that happen. Maybe what I need is my next project for being useful in the world. One of those things that’s so common right now is people talking about “hyflex” or “dual delivery”. I’ve given a lot to that already, in my institution and outside it… I’m not sure what more there is to give there.

The thing I feel like we all need now is strategies to deal calmly through uncertainty going forward after two years of living with uncertainty, and I’m not sure that all the strategies in the world can help – but maybe they can?

Uncertainty feels like such a tame word for what we’re living through. Upheaval, maybe? Daily, cyclical upheaval. And it has a detrimental, cumulative effect. And there are things institutions can do to reduce the daily-ness of the impact of the uncertainty by reducing the upheaval. By making decisions on a weekly basis rather than a daily basis, or a daily basis instead of an hourly basis. By communicating faster and two-way. By simply choosing the strategies that work for X, Y AND Z since we don’t know which of these we will be facing. This doesn’t feel like too much to ask!

Featured Image from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/roses-flower-wilted-ephemeral-3182026/

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