By John Peterson
March, 1945. Seven-year-old Bruce Peterson gets on the bus with $1 in his pocket and rides six stops to the St. Paul Auditorium to watch South St. Paul in the first ever Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament.
March, 1961. Bruce Peterson, 23, skips the tournament for the first time since 1945 to marry Carol Anderson in Chicago.
March, 2020. My grandpa, now 82, misses his second tournament due to health concerns. But he is overjoyed that my brother, my dad and I can carry on the tradition.
Thursday, March 5. I was sitting in the Xcel Energy Center with my brother on my right and my father on my left. In the third period of game two, I received a FaceTime from a friend studying abroad in Florence, Italy. With teary eyes, he explained he was being forced to come home immediately due to the spreading coronavirus.
“That’s a real bummer for the people studying abroad,” I said to my dad. Then I put my phone down, ate another mini donut and kept watching hockey.
Thursday, March 26. The United States surpassed Italy for the most COVID-19 cases worldwide. In those weeks, the global economy shattered and the world was forced into quarantine. At Bethel, classes were moved online, commencement cancelled and seniors were left no choice but to kiss their final months at Bethel goodbye.
Each day of isolation has felt like 6 p.m. on a Sunday. The busyness of the past week settles in the back of my mind and thoughts of the week ahead take its place. But in that moment I’m in the middle, with nothing to do except brace for Monday morning. As the world suffers from the virus, students planning to graduate are in this odd floating space where we are forced to put the rest of our lives on hold.
My grandpa used to tell me “the future is not guaranteed” – an ironic mantra for a graduating senior going through this, while also trying to plan for the years ahead. As a person who does not know what he wants to do after graduation, that statement is comforting.
With the entirety of my future resting on my shoulders, it serves as a reminder to slow down my mind and let time run its course. To be patient in the search for the answers. To shift my gaze back to the present; a difficult thing to do in American society.
Go to school. Get a degree. Get a job. Start a family. Retire. Die happy. That’s the plan, right?
College students have no tangible vision for the end of their life. There is a limit to the amount of planning one can do before they graduate.
Before the virus shattered the illusion of a certain future, I would envision myself at the age of my grandpa, sitting in a hospital bed with my family around me, unborn kids and grandkids. Laying in the hospital bed, I think back on my life and ask, am I satisfied? Then I frantically speculate the jobs, the experiences, the trips and the relationships that would guide me toward contentment at the end of my life. But no matter how bad I want to view my life in hindsight, it can only be lived in one direction, one day at a time.
The events of March have forced me to accept the uncertainty of the future. To surrender control over every aspect of my life, which in my experience, is liberating. My mind, finally free from anxiety about what will happen after college, can focus on the life surrounding me. I have lived in the same house for 22 months, but have, I’m embarrassed to say, learned more about my neighbors in these few weeks of quarantine.
In my living room, there is a window with a sill big enough for sitting. With my legs crossed and a notebook in my hand, I look out to see how my neighbors are handling isolation.
The woman across the street has a German shepherd with golden fur and a black snout. Each day in her front yard, she sets up ten six-inch hurdles for the dog to jump over and rewards the dog with a treat after it clears them.
There’s a baby blue one-story home to our left with the stump of an oak tree sitting in the middle of their front yard. It’s a home for people recovering from traumatic brain injuries. Two men—one tall, one short—come out to the front step for a cigarette multiple times a day.
A young married couple with two small children live in the house to our right. They have taken the extra time at home to plant a garden. The parents kneel in the dirt with spades in their hand. Behind them, the brother and sister throw a frisbee back and forth.
Each person in each house along the street has been experiencing the month differently. Parents fighting to keep their children safe, children oblivious to all of it, grandparents talking to grandchildren through glass doors, and five college students just waiting it out.
Though the coronavirus has brought a surreal sadness to the world, March has passed giving way to spring. Birds and bugs and other life fill the silent void of a cold Minnesota winter. As we look back on March and mourn the life lost, with April on the horizon, we take time to appreciate all the life returning.
At the start of the month, I had resentment in my heart. It wasn’t directed at anyone. I was just discontent with life over the daunting thought of my future. Now, at the end of the month, with March in my rear view, even the coming weeks are a mystery. As I sit and wait in this limbo, I’m strangely energized. I’m refreshed by human resilience and I’m grateful for FaceTime, that allows me to call my grandpa and hear his voice, despite being unable to visit him.