Merith Cosden: When Location Doesn’t Matter
My experience of the Pandemic has been like riding an emotional wave. The lowest point was at the start, when face-to face communications ended and we had not yet identified alternative possibilities. I felt unmoored, especially when we physically distanced from my adult children and grandchildren to assure each other’s safety. I am now in a better place, a bubble in which my husband and I spend part of each week supervising online schooling for our grandchildren in Los Angeles, and in which I spend the other part connecting to others through our almost face –to –face technology.
What have I learned through all this? I have learned that I do better when I have structure in my day, and that I feel best when that structure includes meaningful social interactions and opportunities for creativity and learning. The Temple programs I enjoy, Torah study on Saturday morning, Talmud study on Sunday night, and Melton classes during the week, help to provide that structure. I have always loved these classes, and learning about our history and fables and how these contribute to our identity as individuals and as a people feels even more important under current conditions.
A side benefit of taking these classes on Zoom is that our learning community has grown. Whereas Torah study at the Temple had up to 40 or even 50 participants, being able to join from anywhere has resulted in the group growing to 80 and 90 each week. We use this time to learn from our teachers and from each other; as the size and diversity of the community has increased, we have also had the opportunity to learn to accept our differences without having to resolve them, and to enjoy and be respectful of each other’s quirks, opinions, and perspectives.
My grandchildren are also learning about how and where learning is possible. They attend school with different parents and grandparents each day of the week. As challenging as this organization has been, there is also a positive side to it, as we are spending more time with our grandchildren than was the case prior to the pandemic or is likely to be the case after it is over.
Recently I was thinking about a professor at Colorado College who arranged for our seminar to meet each week in different locations, including restaurants and parks. The reason he gave was that he wanted us to become comfortable talking about important topics everywhere—not just in a classroom. I could not imagine then that this lesson would become relevant to me over 40 years later. Learning can, and should, occur everywhere. For my grandchildren it occurs in four different homes with five different parents and grandparents each day of the week; for me, it occurs on Saturday mornings, Sunday nights, and Tuesday afternoons in my home with the Rabbis, other teachers, and members of my CBB community (also through my adult education art classes—I am grateful for them too)!
I will end my thoughts with this wish for the future – that we continue to seek learning and knowledge, and teach our children, and grandchildren, to do the same, under whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Merith Cosden is professor emeritus from the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California Santa Barbara. While she enjoyed her work as a professor of clinical psychology, she has also been very happy in retirement, and appreciates being able to spend time with family and friends as well as being able to further her studies of Judaism and art.