As the reality of the pandemic started to become clear, I faded in and out of disbelief and primal fear. The mundane details of any given day coexisted with an existential anxiety that something big is happening out there and I’m not safe. My children aren’t safe. And, no one seems to know how to protect us or stop it.
I’ve now come to see this in-and-out realization - panic and denial - as part of not only an instinctual fight or flight response, but also the acceptance process of grief. We have all lost a lot. We’ve lost our routines, freedom of movement, in-person human connection, a sense of control, important life events and opportunities - in some cases, our health and even loved ones. We’ve lost a primal trust that even as the blips of bad things happen, the world will go on and somehow the human race will be OK.
I lost some of this trust many years ago – or at different times in my life when I’ve really let it sink in - the precarious condition of the planet, malevolent regimes, the desperate circumstances of oppressed or vulnerable people. But, this time feels different. Maybe because it’s new. Maybe because it’s hitting all of us (even if in different ways). Maybe because even the wealthiest country on earth is ill-equipped to save enough lives.
This is history unfolding. An event that will change the course of the human race. I’m sure of this now.
I feel less anxious, though. Because just as the process of grieving foretells, there is freedom on the other side of acceptance. I am profoundly sad, but I’m less anxious. And, now I can be with that sadness and focus on what small part I can do to alleviate the suffering of others. Within the swirling, I am grounded.
I’ve also begun to see that within that primal anxiety that still catches me from time to time - is a profound doubt that we’re not up to this. That someone else has got to step up and take care of us. That big, apocalyptic events were meant for the Israelites or some other hardier people from history’s archives – certainly not for us.
But, few people ask to be put to the test. They just do it because they don’t have a choice. Why do we think we’re not up for this? There is no one better placed to take this on than you. So, we do what others have done before. Put one foot in front of the other. That’s all.
Maybe that means, finding peace and gratitude in the small moments or praying. Maybe it means forgiving yourself when you yell at your kids and then starting all over again with renewed patience and love. Maybe it means sewing a mask, supporting a local business, or donating to help others who are feeling this harder in your local community and in places farther away.
We’re going to need to take time to feel scared and go easy on ourselves. But, when you can, remember you’re up to this. Just like every other generation before that was put to the test.
You may not be a governor or a nurse. You may not know how to make respirators or be able to supply food and health care to the rural families in Guatemala. But, there is still much you can do. What the world needs now is love. Of that, you have infinite supply.
Let it soothe you. Let it fill you with purpose. One foot in front of the other…
May you and your family be well-