The psyche of students, and the people who inhabit this earth at large, has been continually battered over the course of this pandemic. Each year, each semester, we enter the routines of our lives with the sort of fortitude which led us to enroll in the first place. Especially over the course of the last year, this fortitude has been continuously questioned and thoroughly examined. One of the smartest things a student can ask themselves while paying thousands of dollars for an education is: what is the point? Since the onset of COVID-19, the time that has elapsed has been a series of berations at the behest of that question. The fact that we are even thinking about stressing over finals is a good sign that we aren’t entirely lost.
When choosing a name for this column at the beginning of the semester, I was resolute in choosing something that paid homage to one of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson. There, I said it. I bounced a few names off a few friends and landed on Rolling Rock Ramblings as a nod to The Rum Diaries. I wanted to incorporate Thompson’s well-worn phrase “Fear and Loathing” but was met with titles that were just a bit too long. But what Thompson gets at in his writing is something that we all know viscerally. We all know what it means to be scared and we all know what it means to feel little other than loathing for either ourselves or the current makeup of the world around us. But the question remains, both for Thompson and for us: what should we do about it?
The pandemic was scary. We walked dead streets across the city that we had previously never imagined would be empty. We saw aisles in grocery stores depleted of basic goods. Had interactions as simple as saying “hello” to a classmate while walking across the quad be reduced to virtual lectures and the occasionally horrific breakout room. But in all of this, and the billions of other instances where our lives changed, we still found ways to live and to love.
The in-your-face story of a college, or a country, or a world being faced with nightmarish horrors is underpinned by glittering threads of hope. I don’t find it appropriate to reduce that which we have all gone through to a chapter in a history book or a comparatively unextraordinary contact point on the wheel of time. The air we breathe is alive with vibrations, both dark and bright. We, as a ragtag sort of collective conscious, have been able to weather the storm. But it is what we do once the sun is shining and the dark clouds have retreated that actually matters. Do we insist that it was all a bad dream and that things are fine or do we hunt down that fear and wring its neck until we can triumph entirely over it?
Pardon any sort of preaching that this piece has devolved into. It comes from a place that might not be too dissimilar from your own. I am a student. I work and I survive. Those pillars of my identity give me enough foundation to face that which is presented to me. I am mad at this world a lot, if not most of the time. It is unfair. It can be cruel. But that unfairness and cruelty may be as natural as a thunderstorm. What goes on during and comes after the storm is what drives me.
During the storm one can see trees, many years older than our great grandparents, come crashing down while also observing small flowers that remain attached to the earth that birthed them. The ground which the great trees once reigned over will become fertile soil for new life and the small flowers which stuck around will continue, as they wont to do, to bring harmony to their surroundings. After the storm, we can visit the carnage laid upon the land, but also feel the warmth of the sun reminding us of the life we each carry. The sum of these observations is little more than a continuation of that which has become before us. We must soldier on. But we must also never forget the pain that we have endured or the fear we have faced. The great strength of a storm, or the humbling power of a pandemic, both show us the great powers that our species squares up against every day. Our own strength and power comes from acknowledging that which we have conquered and that which lies ahead.
The fear and loathing which, in many ways, aptly characterizes this time, will ultimately turn into the hope that gets us up every morning. When it is all said and done, we will always be confronted with nightmares and disconcerting contours of this reality. The question that rests upon us is how we choose to go forward. Do we roll over like a dog obeying its master (in this example the master is the universe and its cynical inclinations towards pain), or do we stand straight and face that which frightens us. This pandemic has torn off the veil which serves to shield us from the horror that lies beneath the fabric of our existence. But the life and love we have found within it have shown us just how rewarding our time on this earth can be.