How to Keep Your Act Together When it Seems Your World is Falling Apart

By Dave Harvey, Director of Academics

Good morning, and welcome to the first Academic Assembly of 2021. The general theme of this Academic Assembly is How to keep your act together when it seems your world is falling apart. In difficult times like these, it’s easy to feel defeated, and more than a little fatalistic about how to see your way through to the light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel. It’s important, though, to remember that there is light at the end, that this, too, shall pass

Do you know the phrase, misery loves company – the idea that people who are miserable want to make others miserable, too? The aphorism originates in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th century play, Doctor Faustus, about a gifted man who sells his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and power. Remind you of anyone you know? When Faustus asks Satan’s minion, Mephistopheles, why he wants to destroy all the goodness on earth, he responds, Misery loves company. It doesn’t get much more miserable than that, does it? But here’s something to consider: Misery wants your company, to invite you over to join him in the darkness, but you don’t have to accept that invitation the way it’s offered. 

By all means, go on over; it’s the humane thing to do, and, after all, you do understand in a very visceral, real way where he’s coming from. I mean, you are also going through this disaster-of-a-year. But why not show up at Misery’s with something of your own, something free from the bleakness, from the desolation, from the darkness. Why not show up to Misery’s with an old board game and an exotic dessert? Why not show up with a smile and a few good-bad jokes? What about a bright flashlight and a walk in the woods? Why not a bent ear and some empathetic nods? How about a kiss and one of those tight, tight hugs that lasts just a little too long so you feel uncomfortable and begin to worry what’s really going on here but, afterward, realize it was just what you needed to help you through? You don’t have to let Misery host this party we are all unwillingly attending. This is also your narrative; you can craft it the way you want: with dignity, with compassion and with some good ol’ Canadian kindness. Speaking of which, one great Canadian songster, Bruce Cockburn, once beautifully sang, you have to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight

To this end, I’ve asked a few of your friends to share with you how they are struggling during this quarantine and a few of the strategies that help them through this mess. Each of these individuals would want you to know that they are not experts – they haven’t got it all worked out. Simply put: they are trying their best to bring some light to these dark days. Please give them a close listen, and, when you get a chance, thank them for their courage. It’s never easy speaking in front of your peers.

Nilou Doust ’22
Connor Sykes ’21
Alexis Jenkin ’22
Maria Ivoditova ’22

And So It Goes, CDS

Thank you so much for your wisdom and thoughts. I want to conclude with a few final thoughts on how to “deal’ with our current situation. I want to call this, “And so it goes, CDS”. 

One of the most frustrating things about the pandemic is that we really don’t know how it started and why it’s happening now. No doubt, some of you have entertained the thought, “Why is this happening to me? Why now?”

The other day, I was looking for a book and an old novel literally fell off the shelf at my feet. It was Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war satire, Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s about a WWII veteran named Billy Pilgrim who becomes unstuck in time. He keeps skipping forward and backward through key events of his life, some of which are quite terrifying: the tragic death of his wife, his capture by the Germans and internment in a concentration camp, his survival of the firebombing of Dresden where it’s estimated 25,000 people died in one evening. 

In one humorous episode, he is kidnapped by four-dimensional aliens who experience all of time as one and then put in a zoo-like exhibit on their planet Tralfamadore. One day he asks his captors, Why Me?

Here’s what they tell him:

– That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?

– Yes.

– Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.

I think all of us can empathize with Billy Pilgrim right now. Together we are trapped in the amber of this pandemic moment. It’s not fun. It’s not beautiful. It is, you could say, pretty dark. But remember – and this is key – even though we are stuck in this moment, we will get out of it. Billy Pilgrim comes to accept that life is multifaceted; it contains the good, the bad and all the gradations in between. There can be no sun without shadow. 

And so it goes, CDS. 

You are going to have to shoulder through this darkness for just a little longer, so stay strong. Put your back into it, but never lose sight of the truth. If you look to the east there is a glorious, golden sunrise on the horizon. It’s coming!