John Donne would have loved this conversation.

As the school year approaches, social media is burning up — microschools, private tutoring, people moving to entirely new states just so they can attend school in person. (This is true, sadly, especially in cute little towns like mine. Please help me not be upset about it.)

But really, the conversation should be about, as our district superintendent called it, “shared sacrifice.” As we customize and privatize and deputize, let’s also remember that we actually must socialize. School is not a bubble — and it’s not a magic answer for the rest of society, even if the best minds are already on it (and they are). We can do our best to control our own situation, but we are still “part of the main” — part of the bigger picture that involves businesses, health care systems, our most vulnerable, and society at large. No matter our school choice, what we do still affects others.

As John Donne so rightly said in 1624 — right before the Great Plague of London, BTW — we are all a “piece of the continent”:

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

MEDITATION XVII
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne 

He’s right, you know. We all are in this together…we are “involved in mankind,” and that’s why I think we all struggle with this. For centuries, we’ve been trying to resolve this conflict between self and society, between the individual and the collective — and this new virus only brings this old battle back into focus.

For more on a uniquely unselfish perspective that echoes Mr. Donne’s, see Emily’s ideas here about back-to-school. As a mom of 5 and daughter of the Greatest Mom Ever, she brings balanced insights and just the right touch of humor to the topic.

And I guarantee that if a bell tolls, she hears it.

For more on the great metaphysical poet John Donne, visit The Poetry Foundation. And if you want to talk about schools, poetry, or how parenthood brings perspective, send me an email at [email protected]