On Friday, due to mounting fears about COVID-19, our university announced that it was suspending all on-site classes until April 1. A nursing student who is one of my teaching assistants in a chemistry lab commented that the fear radiated by the students was palpable. “Their freshman year experience was being taken away and many of them expressed they had a loved one who was particularly at risk.”
The south Florida campus where I teach stretches over many acres. It is a lush, sub-tropical paradise of green spaces, palm trees and variegated shrubs in an explosion of colors. Our easternmost border – affectionately dubbed the “Lower East Side” by several New York transplants, is located across the street from the Intracoastal Waterway.
Surrounded by such beauty, it is easy to be lulled into complacency about the reality of the harshness of life elsewhere. But now that elsewhere is here and it has the name pandemic.
I sympathize with my students, most of them members of GenZ, arguably the most stressed-out generation. This school year began with a close brush with Hurricane Dorian in September. But every generation has had some idealistic “experience” taken away from them by the harsh realities of living in an imperfect world, marred by sin and distorted from the perfection that its Creator had in mind at the outset.
My grandparents immigrated from Italy in the late nineteenth century when William McKinley was president. Like most immigrants, they came to America for a better life. It didn’t get off to a great start. McKinley was assassinated six months into his second term in 1901. Thirteen years later the First World War began, lasting until 1918. Immediately following was the Spanish Influenza pandemic that infected 500 million people worldwide, killing 10% of infected patients; 3-5% of the world’s population. My grandparents also lived through the Great Depression, an economic crisis of unprecedented proportion, sparked by the 1929 stock market crash. Tough times persisted for a decade. My grandfather lost his job. They almost lost their home.
One of their four children was my dad. He was born in 1920; a member of the Greatest Generation. He too lived through the Great Depression and later as an adult, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Second World War that followed.
My generation is the Baby Boomers. I grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1961 brought us to the brink of nuclear war. As a kindergartener, I remember the drills in our public school. A warning siren sounded followed by the announcement, “Take safest places. Take safest places,” that sent us scurrying to our metal lockers away from the windows. Later in life as a college freshman, the Vietnam War was winding down and Reagan’s presidency brought a calm to the world as the Berlin Wall crumbled and words such as glasnost and perestroika gave us hope that we would avoid mutually assured destruction.
Our two millennial sons were born into a time of relative calm until September 11 shattered all that. We were living in New York at the time, only 11 miles from the city. We could see the smoke rising from the rubble of the Twin Towers across the Hudson River. Then there was the anthrax scare shortly thereafter, a succession of wars in the Middle East and the beheadings of innocent Americans by Islamic extremists.
In 2003, we traveled to China to adopt our first daughter at the same time the world was learning about SARS. By the time we got back to the States, panic was ensuing in China, the truth finally making its way past the communist media censors. The same crowded places that we had visited as tourists only four weeks earlier were now deserted.
Years later when our sons graduated from college, they were faced with a bleak job market as the Great Recession took the economy down in 2010.
We went back to China in 2005 to adopt another daughter. They are now both teenagers and members of GenZ. They along with most of my students have grown up in a world marred by gun violence. Their “Take safest places,” drills have been replaced by lockdowns.
The truth is that we do not live in a Garden of Eden. Each generation has faced its own challenges, some of them real existential threats. I have faith in the young people I teach as a university professor that they are up to the task and will overcome their fears.
The expression, “And it came to pass,” is one that is frequently repeated in the Bible. COVID-19 will “come to pass” in its time and life will resume a calmer rhythm. But in the meantime, now is a good time to remind ourselves that God has “not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind,” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).
Gregory J. Rummo is a Lecturer of Chemistry at Palm Beach Atlantic University and a Contributing Writer for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The views expressed in his columns are his own.