Sepia Dreams

Nostalgia paints our past with pastels. We remember the good, and omit the bad. Rose-coloured glasses. Golden age thinking. We all know what I’m talking about.

We remember a childhood, not a tedious series of days filled mostly with confusion and helplessness. We remember jumping through the water-arcs of sprinklers on sepia-toned afternoons on Sundays that lasted a week; not the hundreds of hours strapped in the backseat of our parents’ cars, running errands; not the vegetables we were forced to eat at dinner, not the fear of the dark.

What is less clear is what nostalgia is for. It is a universal human experience, so surely it has some advantageous purpose. Is it simply a defence mechanism, protecting us from negative self-images by repressing negative memories? Does it motivate confident action by framing past experiences as successful and joyful? Does it help us sleep? I don’t know. Maybe all of the above. What it’s done for me this past year, however, is a bit clearer.

The challenges faced by all of us in education during the pandemic – students and families especially – have been exhausting. This week, as we look forward to returning to the classroom from our most recent lockdown (3rd? 4th? I’ve lost track), I’m excited to resume some of the programs we put on hiatus while our students studied from home – programs designed to ensure they are at their best when they enter the classroom each day.

Because a student simply can’t be at their best while they study in isolation on a screen. They’re not robots, who return to an operational baseline every time they’re switched on. The holistic health that is required to concentrate, memorize, debate, collaborate and create in the classroom, and to deter anxiety and depression everywhere, isn’t arrived at easily. It takes resilience, self-awareness and awareness of others. It takes a sense of safety, belonging and purpose. It takes nutrition and exercise and healthy sleep. It takes face-to-face interaction. These are exactly what our student programs have evolved to provide, and I want to get back to them.

In 2021, in Toronto’s third lockdown, I find myself thinking nostalgically about almost everything that came before the pandemic. I remember beautiful nights out with friends in full restaurants. I remember getting to spend Christmas with my family. I remember my streets  being vibrant, filled with laughing people heading everywhere at once. And I remember running a Student Program that helped all of us find our best selves.

This coming week, when we re-launch our Cooking Club, Business Incubator, and our Ethics Bowl Team, our Math-support lunches, outdoor group trips and volunteering programs at local food banks, I won’t be thinking about COVID. I’ll be thinking about what my students’ faces looked like before January 2020, when our programs were in full swing, and the young people in our care were healthier and happier.

Maybe in my memory of 2019 every face, every youthful smile, are sepia-toned. So be it. At Braemar we’re working to make our future look the same.

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