Reflections in a time of Coronavirus – Part One

Over recent weeks and months we have all become experts in reading graphs and charts, in the art of social distancing and in rediscovering treasures in our house that have been long neglected. We have also all become armchair experts on Covid-19. So you probably don’t need me to remind you that the coronavirus takes its name from the Latin word ‘corona’ meaning crown which is apparently how it appeared under a microscope to the scientists who first examined it.

The name is somewhat ironic as the coronavirus has well and truly dethroned us and dethroned one of the great prevailing myths of our culture – that of being in control. We pride ourselves on being the King or Queen of our own lives, trying to maintain control over every possible aspect of our daily life. We are in charge and we set the course.

One of the attractions for parents of our Anglican Schools is that we enable our young people to have ‘greater’ control over their lives. The thinking is that by helping our students maximise their academic potential we are enabling them to have greater control over their futures. Through the range of experiences our schools offer we are giving a student the life skills to be ‘the master of my fate’ and ‘the captain of my soul’ as that oft cited poem Invictus reminds us.

And yet Covid-19 has rudely reminded us that we are not in fact in control. Deep down we all know that our attempt to control every aspect of our lives is illusory. The reality is that we are all subject to forces that are well beyond our attempts to control them. But it is an unpleasant experience to be so starkly reminded of this. A little virus has brought the world to its knees. It has turned out to be far more powerful than Presidents, Prime Ministers and even heads of Anglican schools.

Our first response to the current crisis was to attempt to regain control by hording, of all things, toilet paper. Stockpiling toilet paper made no rational sense and yet supermarkets were stripped of it. We all got caught up, knowing full well that while it didn’t make any sense, everyone else was doing it so we had better join in. Buying toilet paper became our pathetic attempt to try to get some control of an inherently uncontrollable situation. ‘It is all right. Everything is going to be okay. I have plenty of toilet paper.’  

Our schools have been doing their best in this uncertain time to bring some sense of certainty to our students’ lives. School provides a structure for students whose young lives are determined by the regular rhythm of the daily timetable and school calendar. A really important function schools have provided is to give our students a sense of normality despite their school day happening offsite at home. Anglican Schools have been well placed to reach out and pastorally care for our students, often in creative and engaging ways.    

It is far too early to say what the legacy of this disrupted time will be, especially upon our students in such a critical and formative time in their young lives. I hope that one of the impressions that they take away from this time, is that despite all that was going on that they felt well cared for by their school communities.  

It will be also interesting to see how society responds to the reminder that life is inherently out of our control. Will we see a redoubling of efforts to micromanage every aspect of our lives or a greater acceptance that whatever will be will be ‘Que Sera Sera’? One of the catchcrys of this time is that we are living in uncertain times. Perhaps another legacy will be the reminder that what we had previously thought were certain times were in fact a bit more uncertain than we realised.

Andrew Stewart Written by:

Reverend Andrew Stewart has twenty years experience as a school chaplain and works as a chaplain at Mentone Grammar in Melbourne. Andrew is also the chair of the Chaplains in Anglican Schools network in Victoria.

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