On March 20th, nine days ago as I write this, the state of California issued a shelter-in-place directive in response to COVID-19, radically changing the way state residents live and work. For a university with about 27,000 California residents amongst its undergraduates (https://pages.github.berkeley.edu/OPA/our-berkeley/student-enrollments.html), most of the student body is now subject to this new way of life.
This directive followed announcements from UC Berkeley that classes would be held online for the remainder of the semester, with no in person instruction, prompting many students to leave their places of residence in Berkeley and return to family in far flung parts of the state or world. For those who left and those who remain, these are strange times.
In my home, many of us (myself and my housemates) have discovered we have more spare time than we once did. Never needing to trek across campus to class, having many of our activities cancelled all together, and being unable to attend social events outside the house has freed up hours in a way many busy college students haven’t had since childhood. “It feels like summer camp,” said my housemate Katie. Especially living in a student co-op (where the typical 60 members has been reduced to 20), I still have lots of friends to spend time with even inside the walls of my home.
As painful as it is to miss our classes, friends, and the structured support of campus, we are finding beauty in this suspended state. Interestingly, the house is cleaner than it ever was right now. At night, myself and others have been known to deep clean our entire industrial kitchen, music blasting, because we simply don’t have anything else to do. It was discovered that a housemate of mine hadn’t seen a single Disney movie, so at least one has been screened every day since then. The quantity of vegan baked goods produced has undergone exponential growth, and we’ll soon be running low on almond milk! I picked up running in an effort to make myself go outside everyday, something I never would have done before.
A housemate of mine recently ordered several massive jigsaw puzzles online which have quickly become group projects, sprawling across the tables of every common space for anyone to stop and add a piece to. Along the fourth floor staircase to the roof, we’ve been adding to the quote wall. On it we can write phrases from states-people, philosophers, favorite authors, or our housemates. Something encouraging or inspiring, or maybe laugh-out-loud and cynical.
When I wake up early and make coffee for us to share I take mine up to our roof to watch the sunrise, and pass the quote wall. Every time I do, the metaphor of sunrise crosses my mind and and I think, however cheesy, it’s time to add Berkeley’s motto to the wall. So as the sun comes up in the city each morning, I remember the phrase “Let there be light”, or in latin, “Fiat Lux”. And knowing this happens every morning, time regains some meaning.