When the World Turns Upside Down, Be Still, My Soul

Sylvia Yeh, Executive Business Director

2020 is the year that we will never forget for the rest of our lives. It marks sky-high numbers of people who were infected by and died from COVID-19. Yet, the pandemic has carried into 2021, and we are anxiously in the dark tunnel not knowing when it will end. The hymn “Be Still, My Soul,” composed by Jean Sibelius, helps me through the valley of the shadow of pandemic. “When disappointment, grief and fear are gone. Sorrow forgot; love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past. All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.” I tell myself, “Be still, my soul when the world is turning upside down. We will meet again with joy and tears on our faces after being through thorny ways.”

Making and adjusting to changes aren’t easy tasks. Adapting to the new norm is a lesson we all need to learn to survive through the pandemic. FCSN adult programs sent our clients home on March 16, 2020, with the idea that we would see them within a couple of weeks. Due to the virus transmission skyrocketing, it became obvious that our clients would not return as soon as we hoped, and they needed their programs and routines. By week three (which was the first week of April), our amazing staff, some reluctant at first to embrace technology, launched five hours of daily programs that resembled our clients’ in-person educational and training programs. FCSN provided training to the staff and bolstered internet services where needed. I can still hear the voices of joy over Zoom that first morning. 

As weeks rolled into months, our very adaptive staff has found ways to present everything from tours of the world to housekeeping skills. Our clients also adapted the new norm to learn simple cooking via Zoom. They also have been enjoying dancing and exercises virtually as long as they can connect with their teachers and friends. They have taken drawing classes, worked on reading and math skills and learned to stay focused.  For students with more limited skills, our staff has developed one-on-one curriculum.  Our staff has continued to expand their skills, learning to operate breakout rooms on Zoom to tailor training to small skill-based groups. Throughout this pandemic, our staff has maintained its communication with our clients, allowing them to keep their routines and stay connected while being socially-distanced.

We never expected this shutdown would last so long. I found myself holding periodic parents’ meetings over Zoom, offering target-date re-openings at least four times that continued to slip-and-slide from June to August to September to January 2021 reopening, the day after Martin Luther King’s birthday, but the Bay Area moved back into the Purple Tier in November with a new Sheltering-in-Place order as transmission and hospital admissions climbed beyond March 2020 rates. Recently, I have decided I won’t mention any dates until I am sure we are opening.

Management with staff has developed a Covid-19 team with a detailed plan of how to respond to exposures and any cases, should that occur. There has been so much learning from scratch, learning without a manual to guide us but thanks to each one of our adaptable and resilient staff members and each one of our adaptable and resilient clients and their amazing parents, we are continuing to grow, learn and develop our resiliency.  

I feel so grateful to all of our families, friends, and donors, who supported our fall fundraising campaign and virtual Gala. We could not have continued to keep our doors open without that support.  I am so appreciative to many community members, high schoolers, their parents, many organizations, foundations and companies that donated personal protective equipment and sewed masks for our staff and clients. I feel so blessed that our community has empathy for the vulnerable individuals with special needs and offer their support continuously through this difficult time.

A poem I saw on FB, claiming it was written 200 years ago by K. O ‘ Meara during the plague epidemic in 1800. Not sure it is true, but surely it is a beautiful poem that touches my heart and inspires me to believe that we, FCSN staff, clients and families, will get through this pandemic turmoil.

When the storm passes

And the roads are torn

and be survivors

of a collective shipwreck.

With a tearful heart

and the destiny blessed

We will feel blessed

Just because I’m alive.

And we’ll give you a hug

to the first stranger

and praise the luck

to keep a friend.

And then we will remember

all that we lost

and once we will learn

everything we didn’t learn.

We will no longer have envy

for everyone will have suffered.

We will no longer have disidia

We will be more compassionate.

It will be worth more what is of all

Never achieved it

We will be more generous

And much more committed

We will understand the fragile

which means to be alive

We will sweat empathy

for who is and who is gone.

We will miss the old man

asking for a market weight,

We did not know his name

and he was always by your side.

And maybe the old poor

was God in disguise.

You never asked the name

because you were in a hurry.

And everything will be a miracle

And everything will be a legacy

And life will be respected

the life we have made.

When the storm passes

I pray God, sorry,

make us better,

as you dreamed of us.

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