OP ED: Unfinished Business in Our New Normal

My mom picked up my roommate and me from Boston University for our spring break on March 6, a normal Friday. As we drove down Commonwealth Avenue, we talked about our plans. As we got onto the Merritt Parkway, the first Connecticut coronavirus case was announced. On that Sunday, we learned the first CT resident who was COVID-19 positive lived in Wilton. A week later, my roommate had bought a ticket home, afraid Australia would close the border if she waited longer. Five days after that, BU closed for the semester.

It all happened so fast.

We all have pieces we’ve left behind–places of home we’ve left too suddenly. Lockers full of pictures and textbooks. Offices full of papers and pictures. Jackets we left at friends’ houses, thinking we could go back for them anytime. We all have unfinished business.

For me, that was my college dorm.

I haven’t been back since the end of spring break when I hugged my roommate goodbye. I didn’t know dropping her off would be my last pre-quarantine hug or my last non-socially-distanced ‘outing.’ At that time, my school had postponed our return to campus one month, and though they would close campus completely a few days later, it didn’t occur to me then that it was the end. I left my bed the easy-kind-of made, the comforter crinkled and unsettled. I had dirty laundry in my basket, mugs on every shelf and pencils in every drawer. I may have even left a plant. I left a room so lived-in and loved–my first home away from home–before realizing it was ‘goodbye.’

Boston University is giving students the opportunity to pick up their stuff starting June 1. My day is on June 3. Leading up to it, I’ve had stress dreams about my dorm room–sitting there, without me.

As much as I want to return for my things, I’m scared to see the streets once bustling with life now barren, and my crowded dorm building empty.

My dorm represents a life I left behind without closure; it represents the old normal, and going back will make me realize how far away that life seems.

With businesses and life reopening, we thought we would get it back to that normal. But it isn’t normal. It isn’t our normal, but a new one–one with masks and separated spaces and fear. When reality suddenly looked different, we got angry.

But in this anger, we’re missing a beautiful fact–there is a future waiting.

The measures we took as a nation in preventing the spread of the coronavirus saved countless lives. As my mom tells her preschool students, in simply staying home we have been “heroes,” limiting the number of patients in hospitals and keeping our most vulnerable neighbors safe. Though it didn’t feel like action, it made a difference. It saved lives.

Now, though the weather and the restrictions have changed, our duty to protect our community has not. This is not the same normal. We have all lost something. Some of us have lost our jobs; others have sacrificed their safety in order to do their jobs. Some of us have lost our loved ones, unable to say goodbye to be with them in their final moments. People have died.

But if you are reading this, you are here. Though the virus has robbed over 100,000 people in this country of that opportunity, you do have a future, a new normal to go too.

Now what we are asked to do is different, but it is just as simple and heroic. When I think back to those stress dreams I had, my room never looked the same. Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe it was my brain’s way of telling me that though this future would be different, if I took precautions and was safe—if I was lucky—it could be waiting for me, it could exist, nonetheless.

You can choose to be frustrated by what’s different, or you can choose to see the teachers driving miles to give every student in their class a congratulatory sign. You can see the mask as a sweaty accessory, or you can see it as a gift that allows you to greet your neighbors, retailers, and essential workers. You can obsess over the way things were, or you can celebrate the army of Wiltonians dedicated to helping essential workers.

You can choose to see the good.

Greet your neighbor when you walk down the street. Thank the cashier at checkout. Give a large tip when ordering takeout. Express gratitude. It’s simple, and it goes a long way. It matters.

So though many of us have lost too much, though we miss the way things were, let’s look ahead with kindness and gratitude. Let’s look to the future asking how we can be heroes together, not enemies apart. And despite what we’ve lost, despite the pain, let’s choose to be kind.

Lily Kepner is a rising sophomore at Boston University, studying journalism. She has been a writer for GOOD Morning Wilton since 2019.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Lily, Well stated – you’ve got your attitude in the right place! Hopefully, all of us will be in a better place later this summer.

  2. Wow. She will be a great writer as a journalist. This piece really moved me. I am one who feels like she does, but thank you for saying it so well for others to hear and hoping they will incorporate those thoughts and feelings into their lives now.
    Thank you.

  3. Thanks for the inspiration Lily. Although you can’t be at college, I am grateful you are here, writing for us, helping us smile.

  4. Lily,
    This is a great piece of writing and very thoughtful. It is a difficult time for you and your college friends forced into not finishing your freshman year. I am sorry about that but you will all be stronger for it. I hope your Australian classmate is allowed back. Good luck, you will do well!! Looking forward to seeing you in Sandwich!! Linda. Marshall

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