“The plague full swift goes by…” —Thomas Nashe
After almost a year of wrestling with the challenges presented by COVID, and despite casting a wary eye to what may well be “the winter of our discontent,” we have, with the advent of new vaccines, genuine cause for hope. In fact, it reminds me of a story. Actually, it reminds me of most stories.
In any good tale, there are four necessary moments for a good tale to run its course. The first moment occurs about a quarter of the way into the narrative, when the familiar, comfortable world of the main character is turned upside-down and a series of daunting, almost insurmountable challenges are presented to be overcome.
For the entire second quarter of the tale, troubles aplenty rain down on the main character like blows from a champion boxer, so many that the character can only lean back against the ropes, confused and uncertain, doing little more than just defend himself.
At the start of the story’s third quarter, about midway into the narrative, the main character tires of being fortune’s fool, tires of being subject to the whims of what the ancient Norsemen called Wyrd, and pushes off the ropes, chin firmly out, and begins slowly and deliberately fighting toward redemption.
All goes well in this part of the tale, with good progress being made, until the fourth quarter of the story abruptly arrives. Here, a final, outwardly undefeatable challenge appears. It is a challenge so daunting, so dreadful, that the main character is faced with an “all is lost” moment, when circumstances are so overwhelming they must dance with their doubts and decide whether it is time to give up the effort and simply succumb.
Of course, this is the exact moment when yet another change of fortune occurs. An unexpected opportunity appears, and the main character, drawing on the confidence and wisdom earned and learned along the journey, now sees a clear path forward, and the story races to its denouement, and a new world, ordered and agreeable, is finally realized.
Reflecting on our COVID journey thus far at the school where I’m headmaster, we have seen our world turned upside-down: the arrival of a pandemic and its ancillary waves of uncertainty. We have faced troubles aplenty: our physical school closed and our assumptions about how we were to move forward shaken to the roots.
Yet, we also found the courage and character to get off the ropes and lean into the blows: the creation of a Virtual School and the crafting of Our Framework for Reopening. Along the way, we earned confidence and learned wisdom: we now know we can rise to any challenge so long as we work together in common cause.
All this would suggest we are nearing the end of our story. Almost. As much as we might like to bypass the “all is lost” moment of our tale—the sudden rise in cases, with three students infected—the subsequent targeted closure of some HRM schools certainly portends otherwise. For all of us, such a setback stings with the memory of that first crisis moment when our world turned upside-down.
Still, if we must meet this “all is lost” moment, then we should remind ourselves that this is just a part of the whole story, the part where we take stock of our hard-earned wisdom and our steely-eyed confidence before stepping up to meet this final challenge and looking ahead to that new world, ordered and agreeable, waiting on the other side.
I am looking forward to it.