Wednesday, April 8, 2020

After the Fear and Grief

I've spent a lot of time alone. I live alone, so it's not unusual. What is unusual is feeling that aloneness. I've felt that more in the past few weeks than ever before. When I can no longer fill the quiet with TV or music, I've taken moments here and there to listen to the stillness around me. I live in an apartment complex that is obviously very well-built because I don't hear my neighbors. I've always considered that to be a plus. Now I sit in the quiet and wish for a bump against the wall, the reverberation of a door slam from somewhere below, the sound of children laughing outside, or the roar of a car engine. I find myself longing for those sounds of normal life. I fear we've lost that normal forever. I want to say that we'll survive this and return to life as normal, but I can't assume either of those things. Who will survive? Who will not? It's a crap shoot. There are no guarantees.

As for returning to life as normal--that may or may not be a good thing. Think about the ways we're seeing this crisis with the Corona virus impacting our world. Sadly, we see people getting sick, having to go into quarantine, and many are dying pretty much alone with the exception of those tending to their care from behind masks and gloves. Those people, by the way, are the true heroes of this time. It's frightening, really. I fear and go into a near panic with every tickle in my throat, every sneeze, every cough, every bit of a headache--all of which are typical for me due to seasonal allergies. But I ask, "Is this the virus? Is this going to take me down? Am I sick? Do I need to call someone to take Stormy and care for her?" The fear isn't crippling. Not yet. But it has me shaken.

This virus, this invisible monster, has made me re-evaluate. It's certainly been a learning. I've learned how little control I have in life. I've learned I'm not all that significant, no more so than anyone else. I've learned how little I need as I watch people scramble to get the basics like milk, eggs, and toilet paper. How much is enough? We don't seem to know anymore. We're all just scared.

Then I hear news stories about how the environment is being impacted in a positive way. The once-green and muddy canals of Venice are crystal blue and being visited again by dolphins. Mountain vistas previously shrouded in polluted clouds are visible, the skies above them clear and bright. The earth is seizing this down time to breathe and renew.

We humans are asked or, in some cases, ordered to stay home. Stay away from one another. Stop the spread of the virus by refusing it a new host to take hold. It's the only way. It's all we've got. (I'll avoid the political aspects of poor decisions and bad timing and why this is all we've got.) New language has sprung up: social distancing, self-isolating. Words that those introverts among us--like myself--not only understand but embrace. We are our own worse enemies in this fight. We have one job to do to win--stay home. And, yet, people deny the severity of the pandemic, deny the expert medical opinions that inform us, refuse to give up their "rights" to congregate, hence furthering the life of this monster that could take us all down. Lives have been turned inside out with job loss, illness and death in families, the change of plans.

Plans. All of us have plans. I had plans for a trip to visit family and friends. Canceled. I had plans for a beach vacation with friends. Canceled. I have plans for a July trip that will likely be canceled. It's a hassle arguing with airlines to get a refund or at least a credit, to cancel reservations for a beach house, to face the disappointments. It would be a bigger hassle to be hospitalized and possibly die alone in a sterile hospital room and have family and friends grieving a funeral they could not attend.

This crisis should help us put things into perspective. It has forced us to change our daily routines and our longer-range plans. It has forced us to slow down. It has forced us to more carefully tend to our finances. It has forced some of us to ask for and/or accept help we would never have had to request or receive. It has forced us to evaluate just what we do need and what we can live without. It has forced us to hold onto the love we share with others and cherish them.

What about tomorrow? Not Thursday as in 'that' tomorrow. What about when this is over or at least over enough that we can come out of our hiding spaces and into life again? What will our lives look like? Many will be having to start over as surely as if a hurricane had swept ashore and washed everything out to sea. How do we rebuild, or do we build something new? How do we heal from the fear and the grief and lean into hope again? How do we lean into a new normal and create the lives we want?

I hope I take to heart the learnings I've gotten from this so far. And it's far from over. But I hope my life, if I survive this, takes on new meaning, reflecting all that I've learned from this--that I don't need nearly as much stuff as I think I do; that I do need the people in my life to be in this with me; that I have a great capacity to care about others and tend to their needs above my own; that I should and can take better care of myself--physically and emotionally; that when it comes to an invisible virus with the potential to wipe out masses of human life, we all become one. We are all in this together. We fear the same. We grieve the same. We love the same. We die the same. And we will be given the same opportunity to come out of this a better person, with the chance to live in harmony in a better world.

This is what I believe comes after the fear and grief. Hope and understanding and acceptance and purpose and humanity, along with a greater love and respect for our earth. We are in the midst of what Christians recognize as Holy Week. It's a time for atonement and sacrifice and joy, only then to stand in the darkness of Good Friday. But we emerge into the light of hope and resurrection of Easter Sunday. I don't think it's an accident that we were told earlier that this week would be the most trying and filled with loss, but that then the expectation is that things will begin slowly to improve. Don't be afraid to stand in the dark, stay home, close the doors, and wait. New life will come.