Like any true love, we want the best for those we care about. It is also essential to be honest. And so I will be honest with you because I care and because I love you. We were tested by this pandemic America…and we were found lacking.
While politicians and business owners are chomping at the bit to resume life as usual, I feel that something will be lost if we don’t take time to consider what the Corona virus shutdown was meant to teach us and why we are so quick to act like like it never happened.
Although I am not a nurse, doctor or respiratory therapist, I was considered “essential” and therefore worked through the last 6 months of this ongoing pandemic. It is perhaps the fact that I was not furloughed or quarantined that I find myself longing to embrace a once in a lifetime chance to see how the world was without us in it and to see what we can now bring to our lives that we wouldn’t, had we not been forced to pause.
I feel strongly that we got a glimpse of what life would be like without humans. And it was amazing. When human activity came to a halt, murky lagoon water returned to a beautiful aqua color and dolphins frolicked in the canals of Venice. Around the world, animals came out of hiding and took up residence in city streets and town centers. The air was clean. Even though I continued to trudge back and forth to work, the peace in the air was palpable. It was quiet!
I suppose I quasi-quarantined at the weekends and when I wasn’t on the hunt for toilet paper and Clorox wipes, I began to feel the need to gain some control of my reality by beautifying my back garden with flowers and doing a quick redecorating of my living room. I checked on family and friends, relieved that they were ok. I felt that we were all part of something bigger than ourselves. Yes this was global technically but the pandemic called us all to rise above routine and comfort, above convenience and what is known.
It wasn’t until people took to the streets with signs saying “I want my manicure” that I realized we were not all in this together. Other than procuring essentials, there was nothing to busy ourselves with. This was a chance to see the world differently and to perhaps make some changes. It was the first time I could glimpse peace on earth.
Yet people screamed out “I HAVE TO WORK?” “OPEN UP!” We have been tested America and we have been found lacking. This was a golden opportunity not to only stop a pandemic (that has gone on to kill over a hundred and sixty thousand people…and counting), but to reset, regroup and maybe even get in touch with our hearts that have been crying out for change. People complained before this that they felt lonely, unfulfilled, that they hated their jobs. That they didn’t have time to exercise or meditate. People in the millions were playing the lottery, hoping to strike it rich so they could walk away from soul-destroying jobs. What are we racing back to? Smog, traffic, pollution, sick wildlife? To paraphrase Thoreau, did we really want to race back to leading lives of quiet desperation?
People were willing to risk their lives, as well as ours, to work, when every health expert advised against it, not because they loved their jobs, but because they hadn’t saved ANY money or prepared themselves in any way for the eventual disaster that would befall them. We’ve seen severe reactions and blatant disregard for human life in the name of desperation. Protesters belittling and spitting on battle -weary healthcare workers was the breaking point for me. This is not us being our best selves. I promise you I’m not here to judge, I’m just asking you to think about what transpired. Because people don’t plan or save.
It’s more important in our society to have the latest iPhone, or the newest model car than to be adult and make our selves feel safe. So afraid are we to be judged or found lacking that we put our own lives at risk. Believe me, I’ve had to learn some hard lessons too but that is the thing, are we willing to learn from this and make better choices?
If everyone had a year of savings to get them through tough times, what would this time have looked like? Would people still have taken to the streets to demand to return to dead-end jobs? Who knows what life may have looked like. Some may have taken up painting or learned to play an instrument, they may have welcomed time to rest or learned to perfect that souffle. Others may have delved into nature or started reading books. We didn’t just fail our healthcare system and those who perished, we failed ourselves.
What I found most striking was the sheer inability of people to calm and soothe themselves. Some people were making more on unemployment than they did in those jobs they screamed to get back, Instead of being more loving, caring and generous, or adopting the “neighbors helping neighbors” mentality, many responded with anger, nastiness , hoarding and pushing others around in supermarkets. We witnessed something I never thought I would see; grown adults having temper tantrums in supermarkets and stores that attempted to protect their employees by asking them to temporarily, wear a mask. Temper tantrums! And denial that this virus even existed was off the charts. People were so accustomed to soothing themselves with things. That they were jumping out of their skin when left to sit with their own thoughts. Many took up drinking as a pastime and still others gave up completely.
My dear fellow humans, we must do better. We have to be able to endure, to soothe ourselves when life events take us by surprise. We must be able to handle distress when it comes to our front doors. I give you that this was a shock, most of us have not experience wars, famines, plagues or natural disasters. Yes it was stressful. Yes we had to take a step back and figure this thing out, maybe get creative and find new solutions. But to see the most basic aspects of civility, values and decency go out the window because people were unable to regulate themselves?
Again, we failed to teach ourselves, our students our children, the fundamentals of something we all have….feelings, and how to manage them. What do I do when I’m scared, when I’m lost, when I’m paralyzed with fear? What do I do? I know I didn’t learn that at home or in school. Why not I find myself asking now? Why not? What messages to do we get in our society about feelings? There’s no place for feelings in the workplace, in the military and in many homes. It’s ok to be happy right, but what about all those other feelings? We get the message that we should keep them to ourselves. Black people know all too well that they are not “allowed” to be angry in society. That doing so can at best have them judged and stereotyped or at worst get them killed. Women are supposed to be pleasant, have it together. What do we do when she’s crying uncontrollably or seething with rage? We don’t like it. And men of all colors learn very early on that they can’t be themselves, that they can’t cry, they can’t be confused. Look at the language that’s cropped up in the past 15 years or so “Man up, Suck it up, put on your big girl panties”. If you don’t hear it anywhere else, know that these are insults. These are negating statements meant to keep us in line.
We must be able to identify, acknowledge, process and release our emotions. It is essential to being human. How likely do you think it is that a young boy of 16 would shoot up a school if he had been allowed to own his feelings and those feelings were validated by others? So often we choose being cool and being aloof, cutting ourselves off from our own humanity.
To add insult to injury, we just happen to have a political system and media system that pushed fear agendas prior to and during this worldwide event. It is so easy to see the shortcomings of our country because we watched as country after country before us, handled this virus that was heading straight for us. They shut down, people donned, masks, they helped one another, they sang to each other and they cheered their health care systems. Their news was not alarmist, it was factual. Countries pulled together as we did not and have not since in many respects. We should not be too proud to learn from others. It’s a sign of intelligence.
Instead we fought with each other about science, about facts, and cue Q Anon…some of us left reality altogether! We blamed each other, railed against recommendations. We fought over rolls of toilet paper or we shunned our civic duty, refusing to do our part to contain the virus. At the time of this writing, people are getting summons for having Covid parties and not wearing masks. Other countries have seen us as the “teenager” in the room, always brash and unsophisticated in the ways of the world, but this time of lockdown showed us to be petulant children.
The good news is that many people did show up by helping others, wearing masks and understanding frayed nerves rather than striking back. We can still make lasting changes. We can learn to take care of our emotional states by using coping skills. We can reach out to others, to groups, we can journal, meditate, use mindfulness techniques, we can take walks in nature or get a pet. We can ensure our security by putting money aside. We don’t have to go from crisis to crisis. We can choose to pay of credit cards instead of buying that new video game or iPhone. We can choose love over fear, knowing that it will be ok, that we will make it out of this stronger and wiser for having had the experience.
What will you tell your grandchildren when 2020 goes down in history? That you refused to wear a mask, that you threw your groceries around or coughed in someone’s face? Or that you helped neighbors obtain groceries, that you learned to meditate and it made you a better person. That you realized with some quiet reflection that you don’t actually like being a lawyer and you only did it to make your parents happy. And that is what made you the best at what you do today.
Grasping or holding on for what was, only gets you more of the same. We could have come out of this time wanting to save our beautiful planet, having valued so much how the earth renewed herself in mere weeks. We could have championed the rights of animals after we saw how they gathered when not constantly harassed by well-meaning humans. Such was the case with a pair of pandas that finally mated when they were afforded some privacy!We could have opened our hearts to so much more love and compassion; having empathized with the staggering suffering we saw before us.
Is it too late? I don’t think so. It is never too late to love and be loved, to care for the earth and the animals, to beautify your lives and listen to your heart. Yes this is America, and we have choices. Let’s choose the healthy ones, the grown up ones next time around. Let’s connect to our human-ness and take care of ourselves and each other.