As of April 19th, 2020, 98 governments had declared a national state of emergency as a result of the Novel Coronavirus / COVID-19. That’s a pretty big deal.
The first thing we knew about this virus was that it is extremely contagious and it is deadly. How deadly? Many conflicting reports, but we do know that it is deadly. Since then, we have learned more about it, but this isn’t about what we know. It’s more about the experience.
What have we experienced? We’ve experienced loss, uncertainty, discomfort, sadness, and fear. We have also experienced learning about our own strengths and resilience. We have participated in ZOOM classes, meetings, weddings, graduations, funerals, seders, and concerts. As an EMT, I’ve experienced zipping myself into a sweaty Tyvek “moon”suit (it’s a funny/scary image – thank God I couldn’t reach my phone for a selfie). We’ve experienced holidays alone, cancelled summer plans, vacations, business trips, and concerts.
And masks…..oh boy, have we all experienced masks. Mandatory masks and optional masks. Store-bought masks, designer masks, surgical masks, respirator masks, knock-off not-recommended respirator masks, halloween masks which make for good instagram posts and derision, of course. Articles about masks and protests about masks, arrests because of masks. MASKS. We’ve all experienced masks.
We’ve experienced incredible displays of unity and the most beautiful expressions of humanity. At the same time, there has been a very significant uptick in arguing, and it’s almost always about one thing: we argue about the necessary steps to take to properly and adequately live during a pandemic. What are the appropriate distancing measures and what is overkill? Which businesses should be shut or governed and which should not? Is this politically driven? Is it a Bill Gates-driven conspiracy to control the population? Should government allow Dr. Zelenko’s cure? Should schools be open? How much is too much ZOOM? Too little school? Too much screen time? Too much Ice cream for breakfast? Are pants really necessary? And on and on…
We argue with family, friends, and strangers online. And we are always ready for the next argument. Sure, we take breaks just long enough to send a mildly (or sometimes very) funny meme to our countless whatsapp groups (I’ve been added to or joined at least ten more since this all started…..how about you?), and we have to check half a dozen or more news sites, daily, for the latest conjecture, but there is definitely a lot of arguing. Why?
Here’s the thing. Until sometime in March of this year, we were more-or-less in control. We made our own decisions and anticipated the parts of our lives which were not up to us: we’ll have to pay taxes, we will occasionally get sick and need a doctor, the neighbor might block the driveway again, and sometimes the erev-Shabbat lines at the supermarket will take longer than expected. But overall, we were in charge. We were steering this ship called life. And then Coronavirus changed all that. Suddenly, we were being handed directives which changed on an almost hourly basis. We watched, helplessly, as we or our loved ones got the virus and some succumbed to it. We were scared. We were sad. There was virtually nothing we could do to get back on track. Then we started leaning in the other direction: “It’s not so bad. Only .XXXX% of the population is sick and only X% of those are on ventilators and X% of those will be fine”. “Did you see this article or that YouTube?” “Isn’t it interesting that it’s an election year this year?” (P.S. The Pandemic is everywhere….and it’s not an election year everywhere). Then we start questioning the terrible financial losses…..we start looking into the global effect on mental health (as we should!) and suicide. We attempt cost-benefit analysis from behind our screens and in our pajamas. Some are absolutely sure that what they are doing is the right thing. Others are, perhaps, less sure, but that doesn’t stop them from picking a side. I have absolutely no idea of the accurate statistics, but I’d comfortably wager that for every credentialed opinion on these matters (ya know, like epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, biologists, economists, and statisticians), there are more than 100 opinions who are passionately weighing in on these matters about which ̶t̶h̶e̶y̶ we know nothing.
When other disasters strike, the response is markedly different. Sure, there will always be those who weigh in on tragedies like 9/11, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Conspiracy theorists abound and they have what to say there too. The regular bunch of ‘Monday morning quarterbacks’ will always be at the ready to explain how things might have been avoided altogether or at least handled better than they were. At the same time, while the aftermath of these disasters could and has taken months or years to navigate, the discussion about it usually subsides long before then. But not COVID19. The discussion is alive and well. Because this one is still steering the ship. This isn’t an incident of disaster, it’s an all out takeover and there is nothing we can do to right the ship. No one knows exactly what to do to make us healthier/ keep us healthy. No one knows exactly what to do to fix the economy. Everyone is trying to find the magic elixir that will make this pandemic “successful”, but guess what?
IT’S A PANDEMIC
Pandemics are not fun. They are not easy. They are not happy, and they are not OK. Within the general misery that is a pandemic, there can be some fun, there can be some easy times, and yes, happiness – but that does not speak to the general picture. The general picture is much larger than any one person or idea and the more we try to ignore that and charge ahead with our DIY solutions, the more frustrated we get.
What to do? I don’t know, but I’m definitely in the “let’s try to follow the law and the directives from health authorities” camp. We should do our best to be aware of our own mental health and be as patient as possible with those who need us most. We should make extra efforts to to check in on friends – especially those with whom we aren’t so close. Plenty of people are experiencing loneliness in ways they haven’t until now – it’s not just about lockdown or quarantine. Most of us aren’t interacting as much as we used to and that means that the outliers are suffering. Reach out to someone. Do what you can in terms of charity in all of its forms. All of the above are good, no matter what. Don’t invest too much effort in fixing this thing (unless that is your profession/expertise). We are all spinning our wheels and sometimes, just like when your canoe is going through rapids, it’s ok to lay low, and not paddle too much. Sure, avoid the (metaphorical) rocks, but otherwise, lay low and brace yourselves.
It’s a pandemic. It brings fear and sadness and loss and uncertainty.
It’s a pandemic. But with God’s help, we’ll get through this.