2019 marked a milestone for our JBU community. We all joked about the daily reminders of “JBU 100” displayed all over campus, on people’s laptops and on all of the official merch. But all memes aside, the centennial wasn’t just an opening statement for every chapel service last year; 2019 also became a symbol of celebration and gratitude for students, faculty and staff.
As a stark contrast, 2020 has not.
We no longer stumble across blue-colored stickers to commemorate our institution’s longstanding contribution to higher education. Instead, the phrases “wear your mask” and “maintain social distancing” seem all too familiar and, to an extent, repetitive by now. We may find ourselves having class in odd places like the cathedral or the Bill George Arena. Instead of hugging each other goodbye, we resort to elbow bumps and awkward hand waves. Some of us may not have even had the chance to return home for the summer, creating the feeling of one long, extended semester.
Despite the obstacles and how surreal our situation appears, we are back on campus. As hesitant and anxious as we may all feel about the rest of the year, we try to remain hopeful in regaining the normalcy we have lost. In the words of our president, Chip Pollard, this year will be good if we’re willing to make some sacrifices.
In many ways, 2020 challenges us to find more creative forms of forging community. Perhaps communal worship doesn’t feel as sincere as it used to. Perhaps those JBU updates in your inbox stress you out more than intended. Perhaps you don’t even feel ready to be back. In times when showing love for our neighbors mean concealing our faces and keeping a “Chip-width” apart, it’s important for us to remember the faces behind the masks and to listen attentively to those who raise their voices, despite how muffled the sound comes out.
Dealing with a pandemic creates a unique type of stress that we’re not quite ready to face yet. Add academic stress and the general election into the equation, and you’ll end up in a conundrum. Because COVID-19 and social issues like racial inequality have been at the forefront of our minds during this summer, mental health becomes a necessity and not a luxury. Just as we are encouraged to protect our physical health, our psychological needs must be placed as a priority as well.
As we move forward with the academic year, let’s remember that loving ourselves and loving others does not only mean caring for their safety by following a set of guidelines. Loving our neighbors means writing encouraging letters and text messages, having physically distanced picnics and listening attentively to their struggles. Loving ourselves means taking a step back when life feels like too much, acknowledging that we can’t cope with stress on our own and lamenting what we have lost.
Loving our neighbors and loving ourselves directly results in loving and caring for our institution. It is time to show our love in creative ways—wearing our masks, being more intentional with our interactions, actively listening to each of our stories and promoting human dignity.