When you take a seat at La Prep in York Lanes and direct your eyes to the skylight above the second-floor offices, you can almost believe in a return to normal.
The sun shines through the skylight as beneficently as it did in the days before March 13 2020, the day York went into an indefinite lockdown.
Then, when your eyes are directed further down, you realize that normalcy is still something to be desired.
The red, white, and black rectangular blocks that served as seating underneath the skylight are gone. There are now signs urging everyone to “keep on walking.” Students still linger there, albeit masked.
Anticipating “normal,” I moved from Mississauga to York’s graduate housing to be closer to the university. The building that houses my department is a five-minute walk from my residence. It’s a far cry from the 90-plus-minute commute I dealt with pre-pandemic: Square One GO Bus terminal, Highway 407 subway station, York University subway station, Vari Hall.
It wasn’t just the onerous commute that caused me to move out, it was for community — after 18 months of isolation within a bubble of two family members, I wanted to live among other students.
Being a graduate student and a TA, my students and undergrads motivate me immensely. Whenever I feel like giving up, I listen to them talk about their challenging schedules, their four to five classes per semester, and how they plan to tackle schoolwork and life. Upon hearing this, I perk right up like a watered plant.
Last year, I discovered that despite the pandemic, my first-year students were still determined to make the best of their pandemic year and coursework.
They got me through my own first year as a PhD student.
During the beginning of the summer, after the gruelling third lockdown was lifted and with more and more people getting vaccinated, I was hopeful. We had survived isolation. We were resilient. Despite the Delta and other variants gaining ground, it was time for muted celebration — time to phase into normal.
However, after the university decided to make the first week remote, my sense of having entered a period of halcyon days had dissipated.
Although I would love to permanently log off Zoom, I know that it won’t be possible this semester — or the next. A fourth lockdown seems almost inevitable, but no one seems to be talking about it.
A recent communication from Provost Lisa Phillips states that “more than 15,000 community members uploaded their information, showing a 97 per cent vaccination rate.” Is the assurance of a high vaccination rate the reason why we are all going about our days, as though we won’t be staring down another lockdown around Halloween?
Despite the beginnings of a community I see in York Lanes, I am worried about our enthusiasm. Can we maintain our September energy for the remainder of the fall and carry that through an interminable winter?
In the meantime, whatever happens, I am content to simply be close to the libraries and borrow books at my leisure. I am looking forward to seeing the trees change colour in the Osgoode woodlot. Until indoor dining gets shut down again, if it does, I look forward to sipping a hot drink at La Prep, people-watching and eavesdropping.