While studying leadership at Teacher’s College a few years ago, my class was prompted to create a visual representation of our lives in terms of crucibles of change. The idea came from the work of Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, who wrote that a crucible is, “by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity.”
As I drew the peaks and valleys of my own life and labeled them accordingly, I could suddenly see a clear story of not only who I was, but how I had become the educator and person I am today.
I talked about this idea with my 17-year-old daughter who, like her peers across the country and around the world, has been home from school and will stay home for reasons completely outside of her own condition, volition, or preference. As she slowly accepts the possibility that she may fulfill her high school credits through exclusively online classes, miss her senior prom, and graduate on a date in a future she can barely imagine, she is understandably down.
“You’re in a valley,” I told her. “We all are.” Her eyes filled with the tears she has largely been holding back since her school emptied for spring break. I explained that while valleys add time and even hardship to our journey, they have to be traversed to get to the peaks.
I thought about the drawing she would make of her life so far and my breath caught, remembering what I thought I’d never forget: She was a 9/11 baby, born in August of 2002. Her class, the class of 2020, is populated by many of the children born in the aftermath of one of the most significant national and geopolitical events of my lifetime. Now, as my daughter and her peers suspend their respective life journeys and are with their parents more than they have been since they learned to walk, they are entering a valley that has certain familiar features to the valley into which they were born.
What a marvel life is in the moments when we recognize, remember, or understand our own stories. Most of the time, we are too much in their pages to be able to read them very critically, and, always, we are the main character as well as the final editor, prone to all manner of blindness and bias.
The impact of COVID-19 is already being felt, but is hardly yet understood. It will take many more miles and likely more confusion before we will have any idea of its long-term impacts on us individually or collectively. One thing we can be certain of, however, is that like all crucibles we experience, we will change as a result.
While we come to understand those changes, we should not plan to make our valleys our homes. Along the horizon lie those snow-capped tops, and from there, the valleys in our stories make more sense.