Life during a time of pandemic means finding herself in classic literature for John Glenn senior

This blog is in the eighth in an occasional series written by local people and businesses as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, Route Bay City features McKenna Wasmer, a John Glenn High School senior. McKenna graduates on June 5 and plans to attend Kalamazoo College in the fall to study French and acting.

“I remember that the real world is wide and that a varied field of hopes and fears, sensations and excitements, awaited those who have the courage to go forth into its expanse and seek real knowledge amidst its perils”  - Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

It was easy to feel like life was at a standstill when the world shut down. And it did shut down, drastically. 

I was living my life through rose-colored glasses last February, happy to be near the end of my junior year, all the while anxiously awaiting the SATs, AP testing, and the multiple college visits I had planned for the summer. 

I was going miles per minute, in between home and school, between APUSH and my spring musical rehearsals for Grease. It was common for me to be at school for 12 hours during the week, 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., and to return home to another three hours or so of assignments, research papers, and math equations. I was busy and I was reveling in it. 

There was never a dull moment in my life because there was always something new to learn and experience, another conversation to be had about the world around me as well as another person to have that conversation with. I am a social butterfly, to say the least, I would flit between friends from golf to friends from musicals, just to have any sort of menial, human connection.

You can imagine how it hurt me when I couldn’t go to school or rehearsal anymore. When my only connection was that with my parents, who are lovely people who never cease to astound me with their love and affection for one another and me. But I was used to crowds of people going to and fro, each who had a smile to give and a greeting to share, so much more than my parents could provide for me every single moment. 

The period of quarantine was like solitary confinement for me, lonely and dark. In this aloneness, I turned to my old friends: books. But the same fantasy series and teenage romances failed to pull me from my slump. In a desperate attempt to better myself, culture myself, I turned to the classics, namely Jane Eyre. 

This discovery was my Eureka moment, it was like finding myself amid a storm, in between the pages of a novel that was written 147 years before the existence of COVID-19, it was irony even Shakespeare couldn’t write. I did not grow up as a ward, nor was I employed as a governess to a rich man with many secrets (a girl could dream), but Jane was experiencing exactly what was plaguing me. 

My loneliness was something that would consume me, make it difficult to even think of doing anything else, and for a long period, it seemed inescapable. I envied Jane because she was often optimistic about her future, her hope was something that bounced off the pages and never failed to change my mind. 

Most of all, I realized that one of Jane’s virtues was not only her optimism but also her self-respect. She was as dredged in loneliness as I was, but she made something of it, she became comfortable with herself, enough for herself. She knew herself.

I made a decision at the beginning of my senior year, that I was going to try to learn something of myself. I began my virtual schooling with an uncanny amount of optimism that can only come after hitting rock bottom so hard and realizing the only way to go from there was up. 

I had served my time in sweatpants. Now, I looked forward to learning something new about myself every day. I learned that I liked my coffee black and period dramas on Netflix, I learned that I liked when people smiled at each other, whether they were strangers or not. I learned that I loved Jeopardy! and was quite good at trivia. I learned that studying is easier in 25-minute increments and that Walt Disney was actually afraid of mice. 

Did I like Boba? (Yes). Can I write with my left hand? (No). How many digits of pi do I know? (A very minuscule and shameful 8). I had gone through the rough spots and I remembered that there was more to life than the monotony of quarantine. 

There is still hope for me to move forward in life. I am going to graduate. I am going to college. I am going to miss my family immensely but I am so thankful for the time we had together, the time we would not have had if we weren’t forced into close quarters.

Ultimately, what I learned from quarantine is that there is so much of the world left for me to see, and someday, sometime, this pandemic will end. Collectively, when we look back on this period of our lives, we’ll remember the loss and the isolation. But I believe it is also important to look back on things we have learned. About ourselves. About our tenacity. About our ability to care for others when all hope seems obsolete. There is always something more to learn but we have to get past our fear, our loneliness, and seek real knowledge amidst life’s perils.