The past month has been crazy. Every bit of news is scary. COVID-19 pandemic, the stock market crashing, the unemployment rate nearing 18%, politics heating up, and divisiveness and anger still driving the news cycle. It is a time when a lot of people are choosing to hunker down and stay safe. Others are closing out the world as much as possible. Yet, we all have lives and need to decide not only how we are going to make it through each day in the near term, but how we are going to make it through perhaps a year or two of drastically changed lives. In spite of fear, uncertainty, and what appears to be chaos all around us, we each need to find calm and make a plan. My hope is that we come together with a plan that unites us in a common goal instead of continuing to divide us against each other.
The best thing all of us can do is to remember we are not in this alone. Millions of others are suffering, too. And the way we survive is by supporting each other as much as we can. Too often in times of crisis people pull away from friends and family. No one wants to admit they are struggling, sometimes not even to their self. Another thing that happens is that people get so caught up in their own struggle that they ignore everyone around them.
I admit to going down some rabbit holes in the past month. On occasion I’ve done so and left no bread crumbs to find my way back. It can be overwhelming–the human needs, the deaths, the unknown, and the seeming lack of control. When I’m stuck in that hole I find myself scared and angry. I find myself looking at my social media feed and making quick judgments about people and their comments. This isn’t ‘my usual M.O. but when I’m feeling least in control, this is what happens. And I don’t like that side of me. I’m a planner and a doer. This means I need to start choosing what I CAN do instead of getting caught up in all that I cannot do.
A friend recently shared a piece with me that I found really on point during this time. It helped to restore some empathy and forgiveness in me both for others and for myself. Here it is:
WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.
For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.
For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.
With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working. Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.
Some families of 4 just received $3400 from the stimulus while other families of 4 saw $0.
Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.
Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.
Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.
Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.
Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.
So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.
Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.
We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.
We’ve Found a Way To Come Together In The Past. So What’s Different Now?
I also have to remind myself, though I haven’t faced a global pandemic of this scale, I have survived some of this fall out in the past. I’ve lived through six recessions as an adult. In the last big crash, the Great Recession of 2008-2010, I lost over $50,000 when I was upside down on a house I had to sell in order to move for work. I lost consistent work when business and government agencies and colleges and universities stopped hiring, or only hired entry level positions. Though it sent me into writing full-time, we downsized three times and used all of our retirement savings to make it through. But we survived.
In terms of the current pandemic, we haven’t faced this level of mass infection in more than 100 years. My parents often talked about the polio years, which peaked in 1952 with 60,000 cases in the U.S. It was also a virus, spread by direct contact with people. I remember meeting a couple of my mother’s friends who survived polio with damage to a leg or an arm. President Roosevelt contracted polio when he was 39 years old. Like the COVID virus, in the beginning they didn’t know how it spread, though they connected it with water–thus people avoided lakes, swimming pools and such during the summer. They didn’t know as much about vaccines as they do now. It wasn’t until 1955 that a vaccine was developed and seven more years until it was close to eradication.
I very much remember HIV beginning in the U.S. in the 1980’s. Like COVID, it first appeared as a lung infection. Now we know it damages the immune system. There is no vaccine for HIV. Thirty years later there was finally an antiretroviral medicine that seems to slow or stop the progress of disease. Though there are still approx. 38,000 new cases every year and more than 1 million people living with HIV, it is a virus that many Americans ignore because “those people aren’t like us” — meaning LGBTQ people, or IV drug users, or poor women of color, or … find the group you don’t think you will ever be. Because of this I believe we’ve grown immune to the numbers.
When it came to SARS in 2003, though there were 8,000 infections worldwide, there were only 8 in the U.S. and all were traced to travel. Ebola in 2015 was fought in West Africa so that it wouldn’t come to the U.S. Only two people in the U.S. were diagnosed and again it was associated directly with travel to West Africa. In 2017 MRSA was primarily found in health care settings, hospitals, nursing homes. 120,000 people diagnosed, resulting in 20,000 associated deaths. I wouldn’t have known about this at all, except that a good friend was infected while in a hospital after surgery and still deals with recurring infection times every year.
Why is COVID so much more scary and so much worse? First because of the numbers. As of this writing 694, 296 confirmed cases and 31,456 deaths and we haven’t peaked yet. It will be well over 700,000 cases and 40,000 deaths by Monday given the current trajectory. Those of us who have found some shelter in any virus being that it only happens to people like (name the group that is unlike you) have no shelter with this virus. It is more deadly among the poor and those with other health problems. It is more deadly among seniors. However, it attacks rich and poor alike, white and black, young and old, pregnant women and athletes, celebrities and royalty and average people. Being good doesn’t save you either. Health care workers, police officers, EMTs, pastors, rabbis, are all counted among the dead. It is scary because anyone who is paying attention knows that they can get it, too.
The Fight or Flight Response
That fight or flight response built into our brains is kicking in with a vengeance. Some respond by running away–either physically or mentally. Others respond by shaking their fist at it–refusing to accept it might get to them and “proving” they are safe by going against scientists advice–going to the beach during lockdown orders, gathering in large groups for a protest, going to a funeral or a wedding or a church service because shaking a fist makes it not exist. Others are holed so far back in their homes with their only contact being endlessly watching the numbers and researching, researching, researching how they can control this and make sure they won’t get the virus.
These are all natural responses. These are all ways that humans try to deal with massive and scary change. These are all ways humans try to take control of what ever small part they can grab and hang on tight.
But we don’t have ultimate control in this. I cannot force the scientists to work faster to find a cure. I don’t have the skills to join a team to create a vaccine. I don’t have the power to make the president or federal government do what I think is the right thing in this moment. Though I do share my thoughts with my representatives and senators, that is all I can do. I can’t actually make laws, negotiate deals, or lobby.
In fact, I can’t even convince my own sister or niece or nephew or mother to do what I think is the right thing. I explained social distancing and asked my sister and niece not to visit mother in the house because they live in an environment with exposure from people going in and out of their house all the time. But my mother misses the energy of her granddaughter. My sister misses visiting with another sister. They hear me, they say they understand me, but they do what they are going to do anyway. They just don’t tell me about it.
The only control I have right now is over my own response. I can control what I say, how I educate, and what I do in my day-to-day life. I’ve chosen to practice social distancing and try to flatten the curve. I’ve chosen to do hand-washing more often and certainly anytime I’ve come in contact with things other people may have touched outside of my own home. I’ve chosen not to let people come into my house that have other regular exposure. I’ve chosen to wear a mask when I go for my weekly grocery shopping–not because it will protect me, but to protect others in case I have it and don’t know it. I do carry a sanitizing wipe with me at the store and wipe down my grocery cart, and my hands, and anything I touch (like when I fill my water jugs from the filtered dispenser because our well water doesn’t agree with my stomach). All of these are changes in my normal routine and I suspect will be around for at least a year, maybe more.
Do I ever leave the house? Do I ever socialize? Not in the same way. My husband and I do walk around our local streets. We rarely encounter anyone, but when we do we make sure we are at least six feet apart–usually it’s more like ten or twenty feet. My husband is a musician. He aded a verse to a song that relates to this time of COVID-19 and social distancing. He recorded it with his primary singing partner where he was in the house and she was on the porch. Could they both have been in the house and six feet apart? Yes. But part of it was to show other possibilities in case coming in the house was unsafe. We will be going to a practice with the entire band (4 people) in the drummers large back yard. Everyone will be spaced six to eight feet apart. Should we do that? I don’t know for sure. Everyone in the band has been doing the same things we’ve been doing to limit exposure for the past five weeks. No one has been symptomatic. We will still be taking all those social distancing precautions, all the hand washing precautions.
Will COVID-19 get me in the end? Maybe. If not this month then maybe in four or five months. If not this year, then maybe next year. As far as I know I’m not immune. The virus hasn’t said: “Skip Maggie. She’s a good person. She doesn’t deserve this.” I can only do what I can, given the knowledge and resources I have. Lots of things have changed and will probably remain changed for quite some time–maybe for two years, maybe for the rest of my life. I have found the right balance for me of safety, social consciousness, and staying in touch. I am able to share my words and feelings. I am able to Facetime with grandchildren 3,000 miles away, and with siblings or my elderly mother less than 25 miles away. I am able to sing in my home, work in my garden, and dance in front of the TV. I am blessed.
My Meditation / My prayers
I am able to meditate, to pray, to look beyond my small part of the world and hold in my heart all those who cannot stay home because they are essentials workers. I’m holding in my heart all those families struggling with spending so much time together with so much worry on their minds, as well as those coming home from those essential jobs and wondering if they were exposed that day and will infect their family. I’m holding in my heart all the children who miss their teachers and school, and all the teachers who worry about how this time away from school is effecting education and will continue to do so. I’m holding in my heart those with mental health issues and those with addiction, and those with loved ones who are hospitalized. I’m holding in my heart those in rural areas with very small hospitals or at least an hours drive to get to care.
Most of all I’m praying for calm and forgiveness to help all of us stop fighting with each other and pull together so we have a real chance of making it through the next two months, six months, a year, or even two years. If we let everything fall apart now, only two months in, where will be in two years? All evidence suggests this is not going away quickly. We will not be saved by a vaccine next month. We will not be saved by a miracle cure next month. It is likely that when this wave is over, we will face another wave and even a third until we have a vaccine that is safe and effective. All evidence suggests the economy is not coming back to it’s previous velocity. We are at least facing a retracted recession and maybe a depression. That is a reality I must accept. Those are things I cannot change.
We will only be saved by our willingness to listen to each other and to work together toward solutions in whatever way we can contribute. I want to come out of this not only surviving but thriving in my soul. I will likely be economically more poor and it may last the rest of my life. The last big recession took all my savings. Without much savings, this one is likely to do worse. That means what I have is my soul, my ability to look myself in the mirror every day and know that I did what I could and that I did not say to myself that any one person or group of people were worth letting die. I want to look myself in the mirror when this is over and know that I did what I could to help–however small that is.
It is a struggle to not lash out in anger. There are many days I want to do that when I see a newscast or hear what someone has done. It is a struggle to reel in my own fears and what-if questions so they don’t overpower everything I need to do that day. It is a struggle to stop myself from quick judgments of people’s motives, choices, and actions. I am human and I know that my fear makes me think unkind thoughts. But that doesn’t mean those thoughts need to become words and actions. I do have control over my actions.
I am, indeed, in the same storm. But my boat is different from others. My boat has things other boats do not. I have food. I have an income from social security. I have a home with a very small payment to keep us here. I have an education to help me discern truth from fiction. It is because of that, that I must consider what I can do for those who have smaller boats, leaky boats, or an inability to discern truth.
I’ll end with a prayer that has always helped me in these times. It is commonly known as the Serenity Prayer. Whether you believe in God or some higher power or not, I believe the words of this prayer are equally powerful for centering yourself. It was originally written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Though the date of his writing differs from the early 1930’s to a sermon in 1943, the prayer was actually only one line. It was regularly distributed to soldiers during World War II.
“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
I like this version because it asks for courage to change what must be altered first. It gives humans volition and asks for us to act first as much as we can. That is my belief as well. We must do what is in our power to change ourselves and society for the better. It may be that today what we can do is different from what we can do tomorrow. Nothing stays in one place. My belief is that if I do what I can today, it clears the way to do more tomorrow. Each step moves me toward a better time, a better place, a better me. Six months from now there will be other things I can do that are not available to me today. And so it continues until we are beyond this time of chaos and tragedy. What I learn from this I will apply to the next challenging time.
My prayer for all who read this is that your road in this time of COVID is not so devastating that you fall without the ability to get up; that you find your will to keep going every day; and that you find in your heart blessings among the common and forgiveness for the uncommon.
May we all embrace continuous learning. Learn from our mistakes and vow not to let that mistake happen again. In doing this, I believe we will move into a better future.
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