By Sierra Beilby
It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m standing in Transportation Security Administration at the Minneapolis airport. The woman looking at my license has gloves on. I touch the gray bins: my laptop goes in, then my liquids and my jacket. They roll through the baggage scanners, tapping the neighboring bins like bumper cars. The woman monitoring the giant rotating astronaut tube compliments my earrings—some humanity in the chaos.
At the gate I use my hand sanitizer. Afterward, I accidentally touch my face, which now feels a little itchy from the chemical residue. The family sitting across from me rubs down the tables with Clorox wipes. A couple walking to their gates wears yellow masks. I feel compelled to tuck my face into my sweatshirt.
I’m sitting alone at MSP, waiting to join my family’s spring break trip in Florida. Anxiously, I think if I don’t get there soon I’ll be told I can’t go. Flights are shut down. The country is descending into chaos. Traveling isn’t ideal, but I wish desperately to close the distance between my family and I.
I think about where I am supposed to be this week. I should be in the middle of nowhere Indiana, on choir tour with my friends. My black folder should be filled with sheet music, and my tights and flats packed away in my suitcase under the coach bus. For my senior year tour, I was assuming normalcy. I was ready to be bored on nine-hour bus rides, bunking in a new city every night and huddling close to my friends as we sing the doxology at the top of tired lungs.
Every day in the Sunshine State, I have been thrown a curveball. I feel as though I have been dropped into a maze with only dead ends. Online classes until Easter. Sports and events canceled. Minnesota restaurants closing. And the big one—no more classes for the whole spring; people have to move home. I feel this punch in isolation, but I know every Bethel student, professor and staff member felt this, too. Quickly we have all become chickens with our heads cut off, and somebody took our coop.
I went from the loss of my senior year choir tour, to the end of my college career. No final concert to display our songs. No senior symposium for research projects. We’ve all lost something—a piece that mattered deeply to us, cracked into empty space, that is breaking our hearts. Music, athletics, art, academics, all over. There is loss when your plans change. Something that tastes like grief and guilt and regret.
How do I return my library books? How am I going to pay my rent? Do I get my unused flex back? Questions run through my head on repeat. There’s this ‘in process’ feeling. We all wait for the best way to proceed to be revealed.
How do we move forward? I need to lament the senior year I thought I was going to have. I was ready for long days in the library, late night writing center shifts, senior seminar in Dan Ritchie’s living room. I was prepared to be good and bored and maybe even a little frustrated with Bethel by the time I was lining up outside Benson in my cap and gown. Now I’ve been hit with a wave of premature nostalgia.
COVID-19 is no joke. The seriousness of this pandemic is worth changing plans. It’s worth the self-quartining and dry hand sanitizer hands. It’s worth the reworking of the ideas I had for my senior year.
In the Orlando airport, my family and I watch the blue flight information screens. Every other line is a flight cancellation, marked in cautioning red. The normally bustling airport feels like a ghost town. We are on the road home, and that road is shrouded in uncertainty.
What is certainty, really? I wouldn’t go so far as to call this all #God’sPlans, or my plan, or even anybody’s plan. This is why we need time for lament. We don’t have to be okay about the loss of our routines. We don’t have to put on a brave face when we’ve had jobs, classes and commencement pulled out from under us. We need time and space to feel the grief, anger and sorrow about changing plans. And maybe, hopefully, time and space will create some new plans in the midst of all this chaos.