The view from my office has gotten a whole lot better in the last month—students making their way to the dining hall or the pool, advisor groups gathered on the Pergola for an outside meal, teachers stopping a colleague for a short exchange on their way to class. There are a lot of big waves and air high fives standing in for the smiles hidden behind our masks.
I’ve spent a great deal of the last six months imagining these days when we’d all be together again—both because it helped guide our planning and because it gave me hope when the task ahead seemed impossible.
And there were more than a few moments when it all seemed impossible.
In the midst of one of those low points in August, when the path to returning was again uncertain, the faculty were meeting with Dr. Lisa Damour, psychologist and New York Times columnist specializing in teen development. Dr. Damour was guiding us through strategies to help kids manage stress and anxiety in the context of a global pandemic (some of which she writes about in this recent article for the Times). “In bringing kids back to school,” she told us, “you’ll be giving them the greatest of gifts: ordinary magic.” She went on to explain that with so much of their world turned on its head, kids need routine more than ever, the familiar patterns of work and play that bring shape, purpose, and stability to their lives. Add to that connection with their peers and the mentorship of adults other than their parents and the alchemy is complete—the ordinary, she told us, becomes extraordinary.
My first advisee dinner of the year seemed to prove the point. “This was the greatest,” exclaimed one of my juniors as he left my backyard. “I know!,” was the quick response of the others.
Now, I’ve hosted hundreds of these dinners over the past 16 years, so you can believe me when I say this dinner was nothing special. Take-out Thai food, ice cream sandwiches, and a little talk about goals for the year—all sitting 10 feet apart, on the grass, on a very warm evening.
And yet, it felt miraculous.
There’s no doubt this will be a very different and challenging school year. We’re all adapting to new ways of doing things, to new and different restrictions. We’re all missing aspects of pre-covid Thacher life—from away games to all-school banquets. We’re all feeling the stress and strain of not knowing when or how life will return to normal.
But with every class, with every rehearsal, with every dorm munch out and dodgeball game, we’re creating the ordinary magic that will see us through.