I have a lot more time these days to contemplate metaphysical questions. For example, why have I been given a free pass from this pandemic while others I know are losing loved ones, putting their own lives on the line, and experiencing long-term consequences of treatments designed to save their life, but not insure they can live that life the way they did before the pandemic?
I find myself oddly tongue-tied when people share their joy and delight that I am okay, rushing to assure them that although I got through this in good health, others have not. I look out my kitchen window at neighbors walking what we call the “doggy path” without masks. I silently judge them and wonder why they feel they are the exception and will not get the virus or spread it if they already have it.
These self-observations lead me down many different neurological pathways. I can easily trigger a panic response when I contemplate the realities of living alone in a pandemic as an older woman. I calm myself by doing familiar rituals of cleaning, laundry, making a meal, having my morning coffee, and acting as if things are as they always have been. If I allow my imagination free reign, I can leap into a future that entails a lock-down for years and vests others with the power to decide my movements and my fate. My value as a person being weighed against my ability (or lack thereof) to procreate and my drain on society because I continue to consume but not contribute.
This dystopian future is reinforced by having grown up in the shadow of the atomic bomb, the polio epidemic, and having had measles, chicken pox, and the mumps without benefit of any vaccine.
I no longer trust our Federal government, am re-visiting my radical beliefs acquired during the Viet Nam War and wondering whether trusting anyone over 30 is ever a good idea. The folly of all these thoughts is crystal clear. Yet they leave their imprints in my mind, like snail tracks.
I find myself making different meanings of this pandemic on a daily basis. It offers me a mirror of my petty thoughts, my unconscious actions, and my ability to adapt and accommodate new challenges. And it also acts as a projection screen for my prejudices, my fears, and my desire to stay connected to things that are inspiring. These are mixed and conflicting, and the pandemic is giving me space for all these to co-exist.
The ways in which we interact are needing to be re-negotiated because of COVID-19. These negotiations include physical space, psychological space, and re-defining intimacy.
All aspects of social interaction are open to review. Do we shake hands? Do we bow? Is texting sufficient, or do we need visual contact? Is six feet enough if I am walking or do I need more space if I am running? How many seats need to be left unoccupied in theaters, arenas, and public transportation systems to insure I am not spreading or inhaling droplets? How do I read a person if their face is covered? How can I trust someone? What rights do I have if someone unintentionally exposes me to the virus? What responsibilities do I have to insure I don’t expose others? Who decides whose rights are more important?
There will always be those who are unwilling to comply or go along with what is asked of them. And there will always be those who feel they must enforce the rules. Somewhere in the middle are the great masses of us who long for compassionate leadership while forgetting that this is initiated from within. We can turn the tide. We can heal many of our own wounds. We can always find ways to better understand ourselves and each other. And we need each other.
I find myself looking for philosophies that say there is meaning in all that is happening. I come to terms with what seems dire by opening myself to feel the feelings, to look past the immediate and open my emotional and psychological apertures and see what else is happening.
And here is what I see: the sun is out for a longer period of time each day. Flowers are emerging from the ground and buds are opening on the trees. Folks are reaching out to each other in ways they haven’t in a long time. People are changing how they do things, are observing social distancing, are wearing masks, are washing their hands. In spite of vitriol and hyperbole, regular folks are stepping up and checking on their neighbors, are shopping for others who can’t get to the store, are making masks and posting fun videos and jokes online. There seems to be an irrevocable pull to humanity in most of us. Not all, but most. And for this moment, that is sufficient to give me hope.
Now, I have been accused over the years of being a cock-eyed optimist, naïve, and frankly, too hopeful. I admit that these are preferred states of mind for me. I can certainly entertain a more dire view of things, and I have been known to make cynical comments, but this isn’t my preferred stance and such thoughts don’t provide me with the strength I know I need to survive.
I am choosing to find purpose and meaning in this pandemic. I am connecting with what I believe is essential to my humanity. Understanding the consequences of my actions, accepting responsibility for how I share time, space, and resources, and coming to terms with the inevitability of change that I have no control over and the inevitability of my own death.
For today, I am grateful that I am enjoying good health, the love of friends and family, having food to eat and a safe place to sleep. May this be true for all beings, if not today, then someday soon.
Since there is more time for contemplative reading, check out the book, “Grounded Spirituality” by Jeff Brown.