The Need to Slow Down

Both as a teacher/administrator and a member of a gigantic extended family that travels well, I have attended my fair share of graduations over the years. While I’ve seen a few A-listers deliver remarks, most speeches blend together in my mind.

In 1999, after a year of teaching math and science at The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, MD, I arrived at graduation expecting more of the same. Vance Wilson, who at that point was just beginning his 19-year run as Head of St. Albans School, addressed the seniors and their families. Reflecting on the breakneck pace of life at the turn of the millennium, his message was simple: “We have to find a way to slow down.”

Those nine words have stuck with me over the years, and I’ve quoted Vance on numerous occasions. Now two months into social distancing and stay-at-home orders, I think about Vance’s words every day. Forget slowing down. COVID forced us to slam on the brakes, sending 1.6 billion kids across the globe home from school, shutting down businesses, canceling nonessential activities, and so much more. A sizable chunk of our economy has skidded to a halt as we attempt to flatten the curve.

To be sure, the effects of COVID have been disastrous and far-reaching. The loss of loved ones. Tens of millions filing for unemployment. The burdens and risks placed on our healthcare workers. Mothers, fathers, and caregivers stretched thin at home as they are forced to toggle between work and parenting.

Still, as one who has been blessed with a healthy family and a stable job, Vance’s words aren’t lost on me. A Lower School parent recently sent me a photo of her son – one that she knew I’d enjoy – with an apology. The photo was two years old. In her words, “It’s amazing the things you finally get to when you don’t have ten sports practices on Saturdays.” For me, it’s a regular occurrence that, sometime between 8:30 and 8:55 PM on weeknights, I feel grateful that I’m not sitting in my car near a random field, waiting for my daughter’s soccer practice to end.

I thought of Vance’s words again when I read an article by Tom McTague which appeared in The Atlantic last week: “Being a Parent Has Made My Pandemic Life Simpler, If You Can Believe It.” The author’s thesis: Our confinement has taken away the privilege of choice, but it has also relieved us from the pressure of making the most of what we choose. Detailing his morning walks with his three-year-old son, McTague shares the many ways that he has been forced to slow down, live in the present, and reflect on what’s most important, which is now right in front of him.

Like this author, I too have been taking regular walks – in the evening, with my father. Other newfound rituals include ping pong in our garage with my son, morning video messages from the extended family, and Norry family game night (a nice break from screen time!). Perhaps because there’s less on our calendars, we all look forward to these routines.

Like everyone else, my fingers are crossed that scientists and public health experts will soon gain the upper hand against this virus, lives will be saved, and society as we know it can safely restart. When that happens, and we resume our normal routines and frenetic schedules, I hope we can all remember Vance’s words.

Doug Norry
Head of School