Day one: Wednesday, March 11.
The Rocky Mountain air was crisp and refreshing as I pulled my facemask down to take a bite of my granola bar, reclining against the backrest of the chairlift as it climbed higher and higher.
Acknowledging the piercing ferocity of the wind against my bare fingers, I quickly gobbled up my bar, slipped my hands back in my gloves and clapped my skis together to get the residue snow off.
Maybe I should check my phone before I get off, I thought, hoping I’d entered an area of cell service again. It might have happened.
I reluctantly took my glove off and fumbled for my phone from my jacket pocket. It was blowing up with texts, GroupMe messages and Slack notifications. I checked my email to find that Lehigh was going to operate remotely for two weeks.
The next day, as I stepped off my flight in Boston, a new email said we were going remote for the semester. The day after that, on a strangely-quiet Friday evening, my staff and I gathered on Zoom to discuss our play.
During those three days, the information overload should have been brutally overwhelming. Aside from all the academic information that was dumped on us, I could have been thinking about a million other things.
Have I contracted COVID-19 after being in three major airports this week? Would I stay in Boston or go back to Lehigh? Was my family sick? Are my friends OK? Will I graduate? Could I still do well in class? How can I do my internship remotely? Is the job market going to be stable? Are there people I might never see again?
It was a violent chaos of thoughts I should have been stressing over but, somehow, The Brown and White was the calm of the storm. It was all I could think about. I felt reassured and collected — I felt determined and inspired. It was like I stood in the eye of my own mental hurricane.
The coronavirus was going to be a horrific nightmare for the entire planet. And, for the first time in my life, I accepted the fact that almost everything was out of my control, something I absolutely hate to do. It was a brutal and sinking feeling, but there was one silver lining: Our newspaper was the one thing we could control.
Dozens of ideas exploded around in my head like a Fourth of July fireworks show. With the staff spread around the world, we had the opportunity to cover something truly historic. Photographs from major cities, articles from highly-affected areas, videos of airports and transportation hubs.
The possibilities were endless, and there was no chance the coronavirus was going to stop us from doing our job after 125 years. We were all on the same page, and we still are.
It went without saying that this semester’s staff would look back on these few months of covering the coronavirus and be beyond proud they documented this historic era. Not just Lehigh’s history, or that of Bethlehem. Personal accounts and stories that span from New York to San Francisco, London to Shanghai.
As Saturday came to a close, it seemed like we had everything in place to cover what I deemed “Semester 2020: Part 2,” as we entered the era of the coronavirus.
And finally, on Sunday night, I closed my laptop for the first time in what felt like weeks. I was alone with my thoughts — it had been so long. People had asked me back in February what I would write my last edit desk — and perhaps my last article — about. It looked like I had my topic.
I sat on my couch, reflecting, for a long time after I closed my laptop. I’m not the type of person who likes to spend time alone with my thoughts — I prefer to keep busy and occupied.
It crushed me to think that I was about to go seven weeks working remotely on our newspaper, without seeing my staff in full. We had published only a few coronavirus articles so far, but it was clear we were about to pour everything we had into this publication.
I thought about everyone I knew, trapped inside at the will of an invisible enemy. There was so much uncertainty, I didn’t know who I would see or when I would see them. I had no idea where my post-graduation plans would take me.
The virus might have had me pinned to a wall, though I knew someday I’d regain control, and the world would be my oyster. In the meantime, it was worth celebrating the people I had in my life.
After dwelling on my thoughts for a while, I texted a groupchat with my friends from Copenhagen, where I spent last summer taking classes. Aside from a handful of people, I hadn’t been in touch with everyone as frequently as I had hoped when I left.
“I hope everyone is doing well. I just want to say that I’m glad we had this experience together, cause no one’s going overseas anytime soon. Stay safe,” I said.
“Unreal, a rare moment of emotional vulnerability from Jake,” a friend joked. “We love you.”
I smiled, plugged in my phone and went to bed.
Jake Epstein is the editor-in-chief of The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]