Letter from the editor: Stepping out of the storm

The+Oakland+Post%27s+new+editor-in-chief+%E2%80%94+Jeff+Thomas.

Jeff Thomas

The Oakland Post’s new editor-in-chief — Jeff Thomas.

Jeff Thomas, Editor-in-Chief

I’ll start this off by saying how grateful I am to be here. It is of course a privilege to have a platform and to be heard. In a time when many of us find ourselves alone and feeling like we’re carrying the weight of this messed up world on our shoulders, I don’t take my responsibilities as a writer for granted. With this letter I am reaching out to you. Whoever you are I’m glad to have this received by you. With that being said, I’ll start my story.

Late April, 2020: I couldn’t tell you the exact date. Days went longer back then. A year later it’s a blur, like someone smudged the white board in my head. And hey, I’m not complaining, let the more mundane details fade away. Life was miserable though, I do remember that. The winter semester had fizzled out in email threads, Moodle forums and Google Meet sessions. COVID-19 had sunk its teeth in. I was unemployed and living in limbo, trying to pass the time.

I’d just spent a week up north in Presque Isle county. The weather wasn’t worth a damn either. Funny how the year that we needed the sun’s warmth to curb a virus, we ended up with a cold spring. Sitting in the woods, the sound of a southwest wind combing through hardwood trees was a lot easier on the ears than the news stations and Twitter feed I’d been listening to back home. 

I needed that quiet. I was reluctant to leave. The last thing I did the morning I left was go out into the forest to lay flat on the ground between an old cedar and a hemlock tree. Staring up at swaying tree tops and the grey sky I thought to myself, “what’s next?” 

I still haven’t figured the answer to that one out. I’ll be sure to get back to you people if I ever do. I hopped in my Ford Taurus, got on I-75, turned on some tunes and sang along. I played drums on the steering wheel the whole way home. Real wholesome stuff. This isn’t much of a secret, but when you’ve got no place to be there’s nothing quite like the open road.

That night, I fell asleep watching Netflix on a couch in my basement. I woke up the following afternoon. I’d propped the window open, rain was coming in sideways and splashing off my face. I’d slept wrong on my neck. I had the kind of headache that’d melt your eyebrows. I rolled off the couch and started walking, ankles popping the first few steps. In the basement dark, I moved towards the bathroom and caught my pinky toe on the edge of the door. I was bleeding. The pinnacle of human health was standing in the mirror laughing back at me. I went upstairs and treated myself to a hot cup of Kroger brand coffee. The clock on the stove said 2:47 p.m., I’d slept for 15 hours.

Eventually I located my cell phone. No new text messages. I only had one notification, an email from Oakland University Professor of English Katie Hartsock. Turns out OU’s Center for Public Humanities was planning to combat our collective quarantine blues with a community literary arts project called “Words For Resilience.” As an English major, I was being asked to write a poem. 

Now I like writing poems. I like it a whole-hell-of-a lot. The problem was the prompt. They wanted something optimistic and inspirational to help uplift people. I was not in a particularly optimistic or uplifting mood at the time. And so the internal struggle began. 

I wasn’t going to write something disingenuous. Life is too short for that kind of thing. I had to brainstorm how I could contribute to the project without blowing smoke. Sitting in an old recliner and watching the pouring rain run down the living room window, I thought to myself, “well at least the weather will be nicer soon.” That thought was enough to light the spark. 

I sat down and wrote about quarantine, about sitting alone in a room. I wrote about how I looked forward to warm breezes and my summer freckles coming in. I wrote about women in sundresses and the storm we were stuck living in. And then I ended the poem with the statement that we “will not wash away with the rain.” 

And you know what? We still haven’t. If you’re reading this, then that means you’ve survived the year from hell. You have weathered the storm. Congratulations, I’m glad to have you here. I know it’s been hard and I know we’ve still got a long way to go, but you’ve gotta stick around. We need you. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and your mental health has never been more important than it is right now. We are coming out of the worst year imaginable. COVID-19 has taken so much from us. I know how taxing it’s been. I’ve felt the weight. I’ve experienced the dread. I’ve seen it in my personal life, I’ve seen it in my classmates and I’ve seen it in my professors. Moving forward the OU community that I’m serving isn’t going to be the same, so we might as well talk about it and be honest.

While there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic, the struggle continues. So make sure you’re taking care of yourself. The OU Counseling Center is now waiving fees for counseling sessions for students. If you need help, go talk to somebody. I know it’s not easy. I know progress isn’t linear. I know the pain of the slow crawl out of the dark. The last thing I’m trying to do is preach to people, but I’ve been there and I hate seeing people have such a hard time.

I urge you, regardless of what you’re going through, to remember that this is a short period in our lives. We’re going to be around for a long time and there is always more to life. There is always something to look forward to. Find whatever it is that helps you get through this and hold onto it. Whether it’s time with family or friends, music, television, hobbies, sports or whatever — go out and find it. Whatever you find, lean into it. I hope it feels good when you need it to.

And if that’s not enough for you, then consider the science. Human beings are resilient. New research indicates the likelihood of not just recovery, but real positive change coming out of this pandemic. Through a phenomenon called Post-traumatic Growth, people bounce back from life-shattering events stronger than ever. 

Be kind to yourself today, and give yourself a chance to grow back tomorrow. Remember that you’re never alone, that people are going through this with you. I am with you too. People are the lifeblood of this university. We’re going to need everybody we can get to help build back this campus community in the fall. I’m thankful to be here at the start of it all.

I’m Jeff Thomas, the editor-in-chief of The Oakland Post. This is the first one of these letters I’m getting to write. Thanks for giving me your time.