Stuck at home under a shelter-in-place order, I’m desperate for any positives in this time of panic. It’s difficult. Despite the criticisms floated towards the oft-mentioned Yale bubble, the secret truth is that most of us love it.
The bubble provides structure: classwork, quality time with friends and, of course, summer plans. Life is ordered. I’m sure each of us wants nothing more than to return to normalcy and finish out the spring semester in person, enjoying the warm weather, wrapping up our classes and heading into the future with defined plans.
The sad reality is that our bubble has burst, and the distressing reality of life outside Yale is sinking in. Thousands are dying across the world, businesses have shut down and families face severe economic challenges. What do we do without our bubble?
But coming home brings its own opportunities. In the lives we now live across the world, we can reacquaint ourselves with the obligations we once left at home. We can remember the identities that faded while we lived in the Yale bubble.
In the past two weeks, we have been brought into greater proximity to our families than many of us have experienced in months, maybe years. Admittedly, I feel guilty that during the school year I missed phone calls from my father, subsequently forgot to call back and then languidly responded to his texts. I was so engrossed in my life at Yale — developing friendships, acclimating to coursework and joining activities — that I flaked on the most important person in my life.
As I see the news of the rising death tolls and stories of people who unexpectedly lost their lives, the dreadful hypothetical situation of my father, my only parent, contracting coronavirus has crept into my mind. I can barely imagine how I would feel in such a situation. It’s a sentiment that extends to all those I care about, those at home and those who I met in my first year at Yale. This dose of reality — about the things that truly matter — pushes me to be a better son, neighbor and friend.
Leaving Yale has also reminded me of other obligations that I have. As I voted for the first time in Illinois, I was briefly reunited with an older woman who I met several years ago while canvassing. She came wearing a mask and gloves. She was clearly very nervous, but she still radiated energy as she told me her positions on healthcare and expressed concern about her son’s new restaurant. She had not missed an election in two decades, and she wasn’t going to stop now, despite the chaos. In fact, she told me she was more fired up to vote now than ever before.
Listening to the stories of our neighbors and people across the world expands our empathy and serves as a reminder that real people and their lives are the true subjects of politics. Politics shouldn’t be some debate that goes on in the ivory tower where we indulge in proclaiming our ideologies as though only we know the right answers. It should be tethered to real stories and needs. Being home can anchor us to the realities of people’s lives outside of Yale.
New perspectives emerge as we leave the Yale bubble and enter our previous local, regional and national communities. At the same time, there are still obligations we maintain to those back at Yale. Despite the temptation of lying in bed all day wading through Facebook memes and watching Youtube videos, we’re still students lucky enough to attend an institution like Yale. And for those of us who are fortunate enough to avoid worrying about family hardship during this time, to skip lectures and slack off would be the ultimate exercise of privilege as well as the greatest sign of disrespect to our professors.
Returning home can reinforce our obligations to our friends at Yale, too. I think it’s a given that Yalies will be there for one another. In just my first year, Yale has shown itself to be full of caring and thoughtful people. Friendships will only gain new dimensions as we learn more about each other’s homes and families through FaceTime calls. While the bubble has burst, the identities we have gained at Yale are still important.
It’s surreal that we won’t step foot on Yale until the fall or possibly even later. But there’s still the silver lining of remembering all that we may have forgotten or taken for granted during our time on campus. By using this time to nurture our obligations to those around us — at home, in the voting booth or over FaceTime — we might just succeed in making something of this chaotic time.
EDWARD SEOL is a first year in Berkeley College. His columns run on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .