Substantial Possibilities

by Ethan Pennington

Every morning since returning to York this September, I wait on my stoop for the sight of a red four-door Volkswagen Golf making its way up East 3rd Street in my Windsor Terrace neighborhood. It reminds me of anxious moments as a kid, eyeing the end of my street for the sight of the yellow #32 school bus arriving to take me to elementary school. Or more recently, it makes me think of when I would hustle down the block, cross the playground as a shortcut to the Fort Hamilton stop, and listen for the sound of a Manhattan-bound F train.
Investor and businessman Roger McNamee coined the term “new normal” as a time of “substantial possibilities if you are willing to play by the new rules for the long term.” What strikes me about this definition is the term “substantial possibilities.”
Just this spring, when schools across the country and world, shifted to remote learning, we all experienced our own new normals. Like it did for so many, this meant my family and I working and learning simultaneously from our apartment. At 7 each evening, it meant we would emerge from the apartment to join neighbors on stoops banging pots and ringing bells to recognize and celebrate essential workers. New normal is the crew of men who have always maintained and cleaned the building somehow finding ways to keep it even cleaner and safer than the immaculate condition they did before. So what does new normal look like now, and how can we find meaning in it? We relentlessly pursue the substantial possibilities McNamee included in his definition.

For me these possibilities involve collegial conversations about news, politics, school, and music as we drive up 10th Avenue towards school. These possibilities are actualized as we welcome students into class from the waiting room on Zoom, taught via WiFi on the roof, extending learning to students joining class from as far away as China. It is students demonstrating more grit than they are aware of. A time of “substantial possibilities,” is when teaching and learning adapt at new speeds, and where a community seeds itself in shared experience, effort, and even carpools.