The backpack in the picture below may look ordinary, but it’s not. It’s a pandemic bag I packed for Joseph Henry to take with him to Georgia Tech. Its contents include masks, filters, gloves, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, Tylenol, cough drops, kleenex, a thermometer, a pulse oximeter, and snacks — lots of snacks. Kids who must be quarantined at Tech because they test positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone who has, receive two boxed meals a day, not enough for most college kids I know.
What you won’t see in the bag is the anxiety and outrage I felt as I packed it. Anxiety because our children are being sent into environments that are not safe despite the University’s best efforts to make them so. And outrage at our so-called leaders who five months into a global pandemic have yet to develop any kind of comprehensive plan to deal with it. Outrage at a president who cruelly and callously dismisses 1,000 deaths a day, a number climbing upwards of 160,000 as “it is what it is.”
That anxiety and outrage is not just for Joseph Henry. It’s for all who must navigate school in strange and perhaps dangerous new ways — whether in person or online. It’s for our littlest ones at St. Dunstan’s — Georgina, Amelia, Lucas, and Max. It’s for our primary school kids — Soli, Roy, Reese, Cas, Gabe, Samantha, and Thomas. It’s for our high schoolers — Jace, Wallis, Sean, and Alexander. It’s for our college kids — Whit, Greer, Maggie, Liv, James, Olivia, Caspar, Quinn, Connor, and Joseph Henry. It’s for our graduate students — Emma and Grace. It’s for our teachers — Jessie, Martha, Misty, and Jessy. It’s for all of the parents and grandparents who are anxious and distressed about their kids’ return to school.
We have a tradition around this time of year at St. Dunstan’s to do a “blessing of the backpacks.” What we’re really blessing, of course, are our students and teachers as they begin a new year of school. It is always a joy to see our kids, from oldest to youngest, gathered around the altar with their backpacks, eager to embark on a new school adventure. We can’t do that the same way this year, of course. Instead, I offer this prayer for all of our kids, grandkids, and teachers:
Gracious God, be with our children and their teachers as they begin a new school year. Fill them with the joy of learning. Open their minds to new ways of seeing the world around them. Give them patience and perseverance as they struggle with new ideas and new ways of learning and teaching. Help them to be kind to one another. And keep them safe from illness and all other dangers. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.