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Kindness is within our control

| Thursday, August 27, 2020

I spent a good portion of July spiraling. I ranted to those around me about how dangerous it was to pack thousands of college students into 1.2 square miles in the midst of a pandemic. I wore my family and friends out with a torrent of negativity. From the earliest of these rants, my mom would suggest I should try to find the good, the silver lining. This pissed me off more. Why would I, an incredibly up-on-the-news 21-year-old, allow myself to be deluded by University livestreams into thinking reopening campus could ever be a good idea?

Two weeks and several hundred positive cases later, I stand by my belief that the reopening plan for the fall semester was dangerously optimistic, but I’ve started to see some of the good that my mom was talking about. Let’s be clear before I continue: 400+ students sick with a virus that will stay in their body and expose them to long-term health consequences that we cannot predict is in no way a good thing. Students being isolated in apartments without enough food, let alone furnishings, is in no way a good thing. The endangerment of the South Bend community, including professors and staff of the University as well as their families, is in no way a good thing. Further, many of these good things I mention below would not have been necessary if Notre Dame had prepared more thoroughly for the fall. The good I write about today is a sort of human kindness exhibited by those who make up the Notre Dame family, even when Notre Dame failed to show that same kindness to them.

First, kindness by friends. Since moving online in March, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of my friends and classmates. I hope that you have experienced something similar or, better yet, have been able to provide this for your friends. If you have the bandwidth (figurative and literal) to reach out to someone, do it. Schedule Zoom movie watches, form a book club, organize a virtual game night, work out together over FaceTime, send the occasional meme their way — you get the idea. The stress we would normally be feeling as students (which is its own issue worthy of its own column) is enough to warrant these steps, pandemic aside.

Second, kindness by faculty. From the first day of classes, I had professors who empathized with our increased stress and who made themselves available as people, not just educators. On Tuesday, one professor used class time to simply let us vent our concerns about the semester before tuning into Fr. Jenkins’ address as a class. Just before writing this, I received an email from one of my professors saying that he and his wife are ready at a moment’s notice to cook and deliver food to any student who needs it. To my professors, and all professors who have done likewise, thank you for your kindness. I’ve learned more about empathy and compassion from watching you in this first week than I ever did in Moreau.

Third, kindness by parents and alumni. Selfishly, I want to thank my own parents for their patience in dealing with me since March. I know you thought you were officially empty-nesters three years ago, but I appreciate the grace with which you welcomed me back home and let me eat your food and hog your WiFi. To those who have read this far, I encourage you to drop a little thank you in the direction of whoever kept a roof over your head this past summer. Another display of kindness came from a parent on my local Notre Dame Club Facebook page. I posted recently to offer context to parents and alumni who may not be aware of what is actually happening on campus, and almost immediately had a mother reach out offering her help. To make the most of such offers, here is a form where students (quarantined or not) can request assistance for meals, supplies and household items. Please share with anyone who may need it.

We can’t undo the decision to reopen, nor can we wish our classmates completely cured of the virus. It’s sort of like South Bend weather. It sucks (most of the year, anyway) but no amount of complaining is going to change it. Instead of focusing on what we can’t control, let’s focus on what we can: how we treat one another. Checking in on friends is kind. Caring about your students is kind. Wearing your mask and keeping distance are both very, very kind.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you are doing alright. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions, want to join me in helping or just want to chat. I’m home 24/7.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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