Preparing for the Unpredictable

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

From California dreamin’ to social distancing within days, the Coronavirus pandemic cut my Spring Break short and changed my post-graduation plans.

Uncertainty is an inevitable part of life–although there is something scary about not knowing what will happen next. I tend to avoid thinking about the future and I let life happen, but so much has changed over the last three months–and now there is a cloud of uncertainty looming over the world.

Three months ago, on January 11, 2020, China announced the first death from a mystery virus that was spreading faster than wildfire. The Coronavirus was working its way through Wuhan, China–and I was just starting the last semester of my senior year, excited for a semester of “lasts” with friends, lining up job interviews, and planning the ultimate Spring Break road trip with friends.

I accepted an internship in Los Angeles for the summer, bought my bridesmaids dress for my best friend’s wedding in June, and set a date to take graduation pics as soon as I returned from Spring Break. Life was great–almost, too great. Little did I know that my daily routine of Pilates in the morning before class and the park with my pup in the afternoon before work was about to be thrown for an enormous loop.

Two months later, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, the global death toll surpassed 4,600 people–and our flight to San Francisco was less than 48 hours away. While our friends were canceling cruises and booking last-minute beach houses, my friends and I wondered whether San Francisco was the safest place to be during a national pandemic. Still, like the care-free people we are and the catastrophe-immune people we like to think we are, Julia, Jemima, and I set out for our 10-day road trip from San Fran to L.A. starting with a flight from Atlanta at 5:30 a.m. Friday morning.

San Francisco shocked us. The weather was too chilly for most of the clothes I packed, the only people out and about were homeless, and businesses were shutting early and warning customers of precautions being taken because of COVID-19. I realize now the foreshadowing of what life would soon be in Tennessee.

We spent our first two days as typical tourists, touring Alcatraz Island at night, strolling through Fisherman’s Wharf while searching for happy hour deals and tasting chocolate at Ghirardelli Square. We tried world-famous Irish coffee at The Buena Vista in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, took photos in front of the Painted Ladies while listening to the classic Full House theme song, and made our last stop at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge before renting a car a day early and leaving dreary San Francisco.

We made our way down the coast to Half Moon Bay with the weight of “what should we do next” on our shoulders. Our moms were on edge back home, begging us to fly out early. The rumor spreading was that San Francisco and most of California was about to go on lockdown– and the rumors were true. We spent the night in a last-minute hotel and decided the safest decision was to drive the hour back to the San Francisco airport and try to change our flights. Our cheapest option was to fly out of Los Angeles–so as budget-friendly college kids, we made the five-hour drive to Los Angeles in our $2 rental car. Yes: Enterprise took pity on us and rented us a car for $2.

The drive to L.A. was the longest five-hour drive of my life. “What was the world coming to? Is it going to be normal when we get back to school? Why is it raining in beautiful, usually sunny L.A. right now?

Maybe we shouldn’t have flown out to the West Coast on Friday the 13th? The world has seemed to be stuck in a cycle of bad luck ever since.

Knoxville was a ghost town when I returned. Classes had been postponed and moved online. Students were encouraged to go home. Businesses were laying off employees–I lost my job–until further notice. I hadn’t seen my family since Christmas and I still had five days remaining of Spring Break–so I packed my bags and headed to West Tennessee.

I don’t know how long I will be here. I never imagined I would be back living at my parents’ house after the summer of my freshman year.

My summer internship has been canceled and I’m browsing LinkedIn every day for a job. I made the drive to Knoxville just to take graduation photos at my mom’s request. My best friend is creating a backup plan for her bachelorette party in case this catastrophe doesn’t blow over by May.

I’m trying to stay optimistic about the future–because I believe what’s meant to be will happen. It’s difficult not to be in control, though it's hard to be in control of anything these days. Nevertheless, I know I am in control of how I respond to the crisis. I can choose to be productive and mindful rather than restless or lazy, and I can choose to look forward to the day the virus subsides, the crises passes, and I can move on with my life.

I know I’ll finish my coursework and receive my degree as planned. I know that I will get a great first job after graduation that will lead to my dream job. I’ll continue to make choices every day–and, right or wrong, they’ll lead me to an uncertain–but remarkable–future.

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