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Life and Research in a Time of Pandemic

Submitted by Michael Neininger on May 21, 2020 - 3:12pm
  • matthew childs
    Dog waiting for Matthew at the Obama Gate
  • matthew childs
    Matthew Childs

 When I first received the news that we would be completing the year virtually, I shrugged my shoulders. As a graduate student, the prospect of spending long hours inside researching and teaching with little human contact beyond company to the nearest source of caffeine and food was neither daunting nor novel. Yet, as I came to recognize all too quickly, these circumstances affected me much more than I thought they could and, in the process, have reminded me of the importance of meaningful interaction with colleagues, students, friends, and family.

            In a time where we must keep our distance, experiencing the need for meaningful human interaction has impacted my research in a significant way. I am acutely aware of the irony of studying themes of natural disaster—currently earthquakes, but soon pollution and plague—during a time of global pandemic. That sense of irony as well as the drive for sociality has assisted me in thinking through and comprehending the full impact of such events in the works of literature that I study. Why do Jeronimo and Josepha attend the church service following the earthquake in St. Jago, even though those very same people were perfectly content to see them executed just a short time ago? This is one of the question that has persisted in my consideration of Heinrich von Kleist’s Das Erdbeben in Chili for some time; yet now I might offer the answer: the devastation of the earthquake has left them with the insurmountable need to commune with their fellow human beings.

            That communal spirit has now invigorated my teaching and time with colleagues, friends, and family. In my class this quarter (GERMAN 202), I have seen and heard how attending German class has helped many of them to overcome their feelings of isolation and disruption. In our virtual social hours, I have found comfort in sharing my good and bad experiences with professor and peer alike. I am now intensely aware of the importance of every minute spent having lunch with friends over Zoom. When I speak and see family hundreds of miles away, I laugh until I cry, tears of pain and tears of joy. It is in the people around me that I have found strength in these times of pandemic.

            I also really want a dog…

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