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Never Been Sailing

I am privileged in saying that when remote work first began I was a little excited, because parts of my work can transition easily. For many graduate students, the pursuit of our degree is more similar to a job than it is to the typical college experience. You’re trying to figure things out that don’t have an answer yet. There’s no rubric or answer key-- it is simultaneously rewarding and excruciating, and I’m tired a lot. So when it was announced that we would be working remotely for a little bit, I was grateful for the unexpected breather. A week at home sounded refreshing.

As the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic became clear and one week turned to projected months, two emotions began to rule my days: fear and frustration. I had taken a couple days off to readjust, but just could not seem to do so. In an effort to cope, each day was filled with a pendulum of emotions. I was hyper-optimistic for a few hours about what I could get done, then felt absolutely wrecked because I couldn’t do everything I put in my schedule. I’d oversleep to avoid my work, then not sleep at all to try and make myself feel better about my productivity.

Perhaps it was because my own emotions were in such stormy seas that I felt Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Reflection so deeply. Confined in my home, everything I used to identify myself -- my work, my social life, my extracurriculars-- were suddenly stripped away. I’d set sail with masts that helped me weather many storms, only to find that they were blown away by this unprecedented and humbling time. In the end, the only identity in which I could rest, the only thing that hadn’t changed during the pandemic, was this: that I am a child of God and am loved into existence. Only in this identity can I weather all storms, only in this knowledge can I be assured that anything endured in this life can be a transformation through God’s grace.

As I approach 2.5 months of stay-at-home work, I have found that meditating on this knowledge has anchored my sense of identity. I am kinder to myself and can more clearly see how to strive to improve to who God wants me to be while loving who I am. Although there are still days I feel uncertain, afraid, unmotivated, and frustrated, I need only to remember that I belong to the one “whom even the wind and sea obey” (Mark 4:41) for my feet to feel a little more on solid ground.

Amanda Khoo is a fourth year PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering and a second year master’s in Data Science. She is writing to you all the way from California!

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