During this pandemic, I’ve felt a shift. And last week when I rolled down my car window and held out my arm is one example. I almost forgot to feel the poke. And this was because of the voice coming in the window on the other side of the car. The man preparing to vaccinate my husband spoke with economy. Every word counted. But his tone—sympathetic and exquisitely courteous—kept him from sounding abrupt.
I had known someone who spoke like this. I reached into my memory, but I couldn’t find the name. So I turned my head to see. This didn’t help. I could barely see his face, covered as it was with a mask and a pair of glasses and a hat pulled down against the chill. But when he spoke again, I knew.
“Richie Boyd?” I asked.
He bent to look across the car. And I saw his struggle to recognize me. We had both changed since he sat in my gifted class. He had grown taller and broader and now carried himself like an adult who had made his way in the world. I was different, as well. Above my mask, he saw a woman with wrinkles and silvered hair, who looked like she belonged in the 65-and-older vaccine line.
But he, too, bridged the years.
“Mrs. Swartz!” he said.
And he wasn’t the first former student to care for me in this pandemic. One evening soon after the pandemic began, our governor called for Ohioans to look out for senior citizens.
“Pick up your telephone,” he said. “Give them a call.”
That evening my phone rang.
“I’m calling to check on you,” a former student said
The mayor of our town, who was once in my seventh-grade English class, has led our small city through this strange year, asking people to care for each other and setting up structures to make this happen. In the grocery store, former students who usually offer a hug have been taking two steps back. And when they want to talk, they send me Zoom links instead of ringing my doorbell. But the biggest shift is that, instead of launching instantly into a recitation of their lives, they’re asking about mine, genuinely wanting to know how I’m doing.
This feeling of being watched over by those I used to tend is strange, a reminder of my mortality. But how satisfying to see students who once couldn’t find their pencils now running the world!