Preschool program at The Baldwin School of Puerto Rico

Headlines with James Nelligan

Current circumstances being as they are, more of my time is spent in cyberspace. I’m fairly guarded in my participation in social media, more prone to read the posts of others than to participate directly in the chats du jour. I go online to be amused and check-in on the thoughts and dispositions of old friends and former colleagues far removed from me now. But social media is evermore a breeding ground for diatribe, hyperbole, conspiracy theory and, above all, the assignment of blame. In an age marked by divisive politics, a global pandemic serves to feed an insatiable beast. Optimists have become cynics. People are tribal and angry. My friends have misplaced their sense of humor and charity. Frankly, it’s ugly and defeating.

As was said so long ago by the sage Sophocles, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” The world is indeed turned upside down. Every voice carries with it a dreadful accounting. We are emotionally inundated, all of us, living the stages of grief. It’s getting harder and harder to cope, to be resilient, with no end in sight. Our uncertainty is both intoxicating and paralyzing. Overrun by worry and weariness, it is so very easy for one to lash out at another, to find great faults in small things, to abandon perspective for darkening paths. I am reminded of Longfellow’s poem Sleep, “For I am weary, and am overwrought with too much toil, with too much care distraught, and with the iron crown of anguish crowned.”

So it is, this horrible moment, but now that we’ve named it, what shall we do?

We must take care not to be consumed by our current state of affairs. We must find our optimism—that through this ordeal some good will come. We must steel ourselves against despair. Thankfully, we each have at our disposal a powerful psychological tool to support these efforts...gratitude. In the words of Cicero, “(Gratitude) is not only the greatest (virtue)...it is the parent of all other virtues.” We must repurpose our energies to find the good in our day: a small courtesy, little comforts, a child’s laugh. We must take stock of our blessings—family, friends, health—even in the hardest of times. Above all, we must give thanks for what we have. We may discover that in doing so, we locate our joy again, and find the stars once more in our skies.

So, in the spirit of this prescription...

Many in our Baldwin community are medical professionals. Like their colleagues around the world, they live on the front lines, face-to-face with this emergent peril. No doubt in the past few days, these brave women and men have saved lives, comforted the sick and weary, and bore witness to the terrible frailty of the human condition. Our doctors and practitioners soldier on because it is their calling, because they must. Their families bear the weight of their commitments and sacrifices, that others may live. There are no words to express how thankful I am for all of you. Just knowing you are out there renews my hope and faith. May God hold you in his hand, just not too tight!

I also want to acknowledge teachers all over the world, and especially my colleagues. Educators have risen to the immense challenge of reinventing curriculum, instructional design, pedagogy, and assessment in real-time. Despite a shortage of direct contact hours with their students, their days have never been longer. They are building the plane as they fly it. These professionals face every obstacle with a renewed sense of purpose and a full commitment to the children they serve. Thank you!

I am so very grateful for you, our Baldwin community. You are managing so many things right now. I know that you are worried, and no amount of fine words will make those worries go away. Nonetheless, I appreciate your flexibility, patience, and support. I pray for each and every one of you every day.

Above all, I am grateful for the love of my life, who makes me better, showers me with love and encouragement, and helps me always to find the light in the darkness.

May gratitude be your armor against despair. All that is unbuilt can be built again.

I close with the prose of Yeats:

“As I thought of these things, I drew aside the curtains and looked out into the darkness, and it seemed to my troubled fancy that all those little points of light filling the sky were the furnaces of innumerable divine alchemists, who labour continually, turning lead into gold, weariness into ecstasy, bodies into souls, the darkness into God.”