Let’s get right to the point: Life is quite different today, for a lot of us, than it was a couple of weeks ago. And the uncertainty that hangs in the air about the coming weeks (months?) is gnawing at you. Maybe you felt it coming. I know I did. I felt cranky all through early March. The news of coronavirus filtered through into my subconscious – still third-page news, but it was there, and something didn’t feel right.
That was the time before the time when everything changed.
On Wednesday March 11th, the rumblings about school closures started to surface in a way that was possible to ignore. I walked into my morning class, and there was a buzzing among my students. There was concern, a little bit of anxiety. People were spending a lot more time washing their hands. There was concern, but no fear.
At some point, the wave hit. Corona came to town. That wave is still rolling in. And now life is upside down and we are all in tumbling head over heels into something very new.
Over the past couple of weeks we have watched movement in our global civilization come to a grinding halt around us in an effort to quell COVID-19 and it’s impact. In some ways, I felt relief when UNC made the decision to move our classes online. A week earlier and I would have scoffed. But we’ve learned that so much can change in a week.
In the past two weeks: borders closed. Many states have mandated that everyone shelter-in-place. Colorado began it’s shelter in place (called ‘stay at home’ here) last Thursday. But, restaurants, bars, and cafés had been closed for more than a week already. Life as we know it, is gone (is it too much to hope that it’s hiding in someone’s closet with a bunch of toilet paper and hand sanitizer?) And I admit, it’s really scary. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, described this as a war. A global war, against a virus.
So if you’re feeling unsettled, nervous, afraid, and even angry, know that is totally normal. Totally human. We are in an historically unprecedented event. The modern world was not ready for this – despite repeated warnings. And it is especially scary living in a country where, despite having some of the greatest financial resources in the world, there are not enough face masks to protect the people on the front lines of fighting this disease, and there are people who flaunt social distancing as a matter of individualistic pride. Not to mention the inept leader who values economic growth more than human life and continues to reject science to insist that everything will be back to normal in a couple of weeks.
I’ve found I’ve had to let myself feel that all this fear, anger, and uncertainty over the past couple of weeks. There’s the fear of the virus (is this tickle in my throat, the pressure in my chest, COVID? or panic?), the fear of giving it to others (what if I’m asymptomatic and pass it on to others?), worry about the economy, worry about my students, colleagues, friends, family. There’s the inability to think beyond a few weeks of contracting my life down to about a 100 meter radius of my home and yard – with occasional forays beyond for a run or a walk or fresh veggies at the grocery. Can I live like this for months?
I think we all have to let ourselves sit with these feelings awhile. Maybe sitting with it can allow things to shift for us. Because that fear, uncertainty, rage, can all be fuel to fight the virus on a global stage, and also, fuel to move beyond this crisis and address the one that comes next.
But pace yourself.
We have only just begun this ride together.
I was reorganizing my home work space to accommodate my work computer and another monitor. This involved considerable shuffling of paper, books, notebooks, half-competed art projects, and other odds and ends. At some point I came across my grandparent’s war ration book. It’s a bit larger than my cell phone, smooth and shiny black, with edges worn by time. Inside are the yellowed documents that detail my grandparents’ allotment of food and fuel.
I wondered about the fear and uncertainty that my grandparents must have felt at the start of US involvement in World War II. They were newly married at the time, and still living with my grandmother’s parents. My grandfather had served in the US Army in the Philippines a few years earlier. In Fall of 1941, the call came for him to report to duty. But by the time this notification was delivered to their house, he had already missed the train he was supposed to catch. He was told to wait for further orders. Those never came, and my Mom was born in August 1942. They bought a dairy and life went on.
My grandmother wrote about this in her memoir – but that’s all she said about the War. So matter-of-fact. She rarely shared what she was really feeling in her memoir. But I know that the war wasn’t the first uncertainty she had faced. She also shared stories of scraping by on donated food in a harsh mid-western winter, and pooling pennies with her parents in the Great Depression. This all happened before she reached her mid-20’s.
It’s hard to imagine her life because I am a white, privileged Gen-Xer who has had the fortune to have unlimited access to education, and has never lacked for anything. In my last post on this blog, I wrote about the privilege of being able to find anything I need at the local grocery.
Of course, that was back when I didn’t use toilet paper so sparingly. It was back in the day when I didn’t plan surgical strike visits to the grocery store, armed with my tiny bottle of hand sanitizer that is now probably worth more than my iPhone.
I have been freakin’ lucky in this life.
But I have also been aware of this. I’ve been aware that these lives we’ve been leading are environmentally unsustainable, and I’ve been wrestling with my emotions about that for quite some time.
This pandemic has brought us out of a stupor – the one where we each have the illusion of control and independence. It has made it very clear that we are all connected in ways we have only just begun to witness.
This pandemic forces us to pause the accelerated pace of life, to stop and listen to the world for a moment. Usually these types of earth-shaking events happen to us individually, or as small communities, at different times. Loss of a job, or loved one, can make life turn on a dime. But now it has happened to the entire world at once. We are all in the midst of grieving something right now. That looks different for everyone. Loss of jobs, loss of plans, loss of expectations. We are all mired in it.
And there is more. Because when this is all over, we still have climate change.
You might be thinking, “Oh, here she goes again, with the climate change stuff!” But there are too many parallels not to sit up and take note. I’ve been expecting – and feeling anxiety and dread – about this global shift for some time. That same feeling I had in the weeks before Corona came to town – I’ve been feeling it, to some extent, for the past five years. And now a shift, a different sort of shift in our lives, has happened in the space of a few weeks.
But here’s the thing: We are being presented with an opportunity. An opportunity to change our relationships with each other, our relationships with ourselves, and our relationship to the natural world. There is a huge opportunity to use this as the starting point to build a more equitable, sustainable, resilient world – because, at the moment, we are none of these things.
I published a post a couple of months ago called: New decade let’s make a new world. I didn’t quite expect Coronavirus. But the fact is, we are so much more fragile – and so much more resilient – than we think we are. And we are about to learn a lot about that, and about what it means to recreate our world.
The near future is going to hold heartbreak, grief, frustration, boredom, fear – but also some incredible displays of human resilience and spirit. I see the video of Siena residents singing to a dark and empty street, and I am humbled and also so proud of our species. I hold onto those memes that go viral and fill us with strength and spirit. We may be socially distanced, but we are tumbling through this crisis together.