(After spring break 2020 at Indian Mound Middle School, where I work, eighth graders were asked to rate how they felt – on a scale of 1 to 4 – and why they gave that answer as distance learning began. I answered, too.)
I’m a 1, 2, 3 or 4. Mostly, I’m a 1 or 2.
Depends on the hour, depends on the day.
I wasn’t at home in Madison during spring break. Instead, my wife and I were the only two visitors allowed in a giant nursing home near Chicago last week. At least twice daily for eight days, we had our temperatures taken and sported masks. Then we weaved our way through long corridors and past countless rooms, most blaring TVs of black-and-white movies or ranting cable newscasts.
My widowed father-in-law, age 83, is in Room 2224.
We’ve known since last summer that cancer would overtake him. On March 27, we received the call from his doctor: Come now, he doesn’t have long to live. His blood test results indicated he wouldn’t last one week. As of today (Monday, April 6), he’s still alive and fairly alert, even chatty at times. My wife and I, though, have been sent back to Madison because a nursing home employee tested positive for coronavirus, prompting an immediate shutdown to all but a few workers.
I’ve known my father-in-law for 37 years. He’s an icon of sorts in Chicago’s vast suburbs – having written about high school sports for half of a century. During visits, like he has for decades, he asks about what’s new in my life. He asks about the track team; he asks about Indian Mound students under quarantine; he asks what I’m reading. Every visit or call ends the same way: He will be tearful and tell us he loves us.
So when have I been a 3 or 4?
Last night, I found a photo album he made when my son was born in 1998 to describe his life.
It includes a photo from 1950 when my father-in-law (in the photo above, front left) was in eighth grade. He’s posing with the 25 other eighth-grade students, all of his classmates. Each one looks serious and so uncertain. Thirteen and 14 is a hard age for any generation. But I flip the next 40 pages of his photo album, and I see how his life developed with so much joy.
Hardships? Of course. But there was so much joy! So much.