Cultivating hope and resilience during COVID-19

  • Therese Hart

    Therese Hart

 
By Therese Hart
Guest columnist
Updated 1/3/2021 12:16 PM

Since March of 2020, on average I sleep about four to six hours a night and work 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Other than my daily walk around the neighborhood, I leave the house only once a week to buy groceries.

I did what we were told to do: stay home. My husband and son work at two different grocery stores close to the house we rent, and I am a professor at Harper College (teaching and working remotely). We have been lucky: I know that I am privileged to work online, and I am thankful that my husband and son can still work and earn money because their jobs are considered "essential." I worry constantly about the people who have no jobs, those struggling with child care, and all the frontline folks trying to help people survive this devastating virus.

 

2019 was a horrible year. My husband was diagnosed with cancer (Stage 4), had surgery for the first time ever, and began aggressive chemotherapy. At one point, the 6-foot-4 love of my life weighed only 156 pounds. It was terrifying. Part of what kept me going was my dream of a better and easier time in 2020. Clearly that was not meant to be.

2020 came barreling in with pain and misery and has just kept going, like a malicious Energizer bunny.

On New Year's Day, I woke up in agony with no hearing at all. I had been dealing with a wretched sinus infection for a few months, but had to endure it. You do not get time to take care of yourself when your husband is going through chemo and fighting for his life, your son is in his senior year of high school (in four different school bands), and you are not only a full-time professor but also the department chair.

Growing up poor with both sets of grandparents who survived the Great Depression, followed by the men serving in World War II, while their wives took care of everything at home, including five infants and toddlers in each household, you learn to appreciate what you have, to work harder than you think is possible and to cultivate resilience at every turn. There were no trophies just for showing up and every penny for anything you needed had to be earned yourself.

I am grateful for those life lessons.

We were in Ohio visiting family in December 2019, because thanks to the cancer, my husband could get some time off during the busy holiday season. Despite my wretched state of health, I drove us all the way there and back, because it was a rare opportunity to see family during the holidays. I ended up in a walk-in clinic on New Year's Day, followed by a prescription for antibiotics and a mission to get home.

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Back in Illinois, I started off teaching the Spring 2020 term with only 25% hearing in one ear. By the time all was said and done, I had seen four doctors in two different states, had two full cycles of antibiotics, a round of steroids, and took two days off from teaching to have surgery during the last week of February.

The very next week, while conducting a teaching observation of an adjunct faculty member (in between my own classes), everybody's phones started blowing up: we were going home. It looked like this coronavirus stuff was more serious than anybody thought.

After that, things started coming at an astounding pace. In only a few days, we had to flip over everything to teach completely online for the last two months of classes.

It is one thing to design an in-person class, a fully online offering or a hybrid course (blend of the two). We all have to learn many options in higher education; but, it is quite another to take in-person classes that are two-thirds of the way done and completely redesign and merge them into a fully online format. Plus, most of those students enrolled that term never intended to take their classes online. I don't think anybody from Harper College slept for days.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We burned the midnight oil, drank buckets of coffee and were at our computers way more than is healthy for any human being. But we did the right thing. We kept our faculty, staff and students safe. We rallied, we supported each other, and we found ways to make it work.

We have Chromebooks, calculators, and Wi-Fi hot spot loans for students so they can keep going forward. We beefed up already existing financial assistance and created new scholarships with money from faculty, staff, and the community. We connected students to psychological services (there is even a self-help therapy app), made YouTube videos, and hosted live webcam yoga sessions and other entertaining activities. We found ways to make sure students could afford to eat and pay their rent.

Faculty and staff regularly use video conferencing for meetings and office hours. We can still see each other and conduct business as normally as possible. We have been consummate examples of resilience and positivity in some pretty dark times.

I have read many articles and seen numerous videos of terrible events during COVID-19. But I have hope. My husband survived, and the cancer is in remission. Our son graduated high school and voted in his first election. I cannot even express in words how thrilled and proud that makes me. My hearing is back with minimal long-term damage.

I created a much better workspace for myself at home. I added items to my art supply stash and am looking forward to trying acrylic pour painting. And we still had our annual Liberal Arts Holiday Party thanks to our amazing office staff, who set it up on video conferencing. We wore our ugly holiday sweaters, played some games and laughed a lot.

Life is unquestionably different now. It is exhausting. It is a 24/7 hyperconnected online existence. I do not know what the "new normal" will be like when we are finally past the ravages of COVID-19; but I am certain that patience, dedication and compassion are the key ingredients for our survival.

We must cultivate hope and resilience to help each other endure it.

• Therese Hart, of Crystal Lake, is humanities professor and department chair at Harper College in Palatine.

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