I am challenged this week to come up with a cohesive essay. There are so many different things happening in my life and in the world. To focus on just one topic seems impossible and does not do justice to my sense of being on shaky ground, without a firm core, all the while aware of every unbalanced moment!
COVID continues to impact my life in both small and large ways. I am numb to the rising numbers of infection and death, but incredibly sensitive to the possibility that people I know and love may be at high risk for infection. I am also aware that the faux sense of protection I had knowing that I have antibodies is slowly diminishing. I use the past tense because it is possible that what was once thought to be a protective response no longer is.
This is based on absolutely nothing scientific or evidence-based, but purely out of lack of certainty because the trusted institutions I once relied on are being characterized as incompetent and unreliable. This, of course, has come because of the systematic erosion by certain members in our government and how they spin their tales in the media.
My own experience with post-COVID is confusing and vague, as I have a variety of minor symptoms (gastric distress, fatigue, muscle pain) that are attributable to literally hundreds of different underlying causes ranging from catastrophic to “are-you-kidding-me?” that occur at random. Or, they could be due to COVID. I no longer consult Dr. Google, because there is nothing of use on the websites, and those listserves that share anecdotal experiences make me cringe with the lack of accurate information people are sharing with one another as fact.
And then there is the political pandemic. I am truly agog when the news is sharing pictures of mothers standing up against Stormtroopers in sleepy towns like Portland. Strangely (to me) each night the television comedians, who now seem to have taken over the role of cultural interpreters, lob easy shots at the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and then segue to some ad for mattresses or cars or other extraneous consumable. The side-by-side positioning gives me whiplash.
In my role as psychologist, I am trained to help people untangle the plots of their lives and make meaning out of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Even with all my training, and even with such elegant mapping of one family’s pathology (do read Mary Trump’s book!), I am still finding it difficult to understand how our nation has come to this point in its development and how we ended up with such corrupt leadership at all levels.
As a citizen who is privileged and has the power to effect change, it is no longer acceptable for me to ignore the cumulative suffering of people of color. These are fellow citizens who have been denied access to relief and continue to be the focus of abuses of power. Still, so many people I know feel impotent and unable to persuade those in power to make the changes needed. Our system of government seems unresponsive, unwilling and incapable of addressing these wrongs. How did we get to this place? My answer is benign neglect.
Many of us experience life as predictable, steady, and without threat. I do not question whether my Social Security check will be deposited in my bank account every month. It always has and it always will, or so my habitual way of thinking goes. I go to the store when I feel I need something and always find the shelves well-stocked and I always have the money to pay for what I want. That is until COVID interrupted the distribution chain and my income flow. My lights turn on and off without interruption, and my TV streams shows that I want to watch when I want to watch them. That is until fire season starts and my public utility company decides to shut power off to protect its shareholders. Like an addict, I am accustomed to my “high” and have incredible difficulty if I am unable to get my fix.
Without being too smug, I can say that I remember a time when all these predictable things were not a given. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and World War II. My parents found a way to make ends meet during the great recession of the late 1950s and early 1960s. My mother found a way to earn a living after she was widowed, and kept a roof over our heads and found a way to get me to college.
Because I was exposed to interruptions of the expected, I have developed different strategies to manage the distress that comes from having the rug pulled out from under me. In learning from these hardships, challenges, losses, and failures, I have developed a belief that I can survive the bad times and make it through to the good times. I have a track record!
Not everyone has experienced these things, nor do I ever wish such challenges upon people. Yet, it is very hard to ignore the warning signs. For those among us who are most vulnerable, those who are economically challenged, cannot count on having a secure roof over their head or food in their belly, who are without family or loved ones who can provide resources, who are sick and without access to medical care, we are faced with the moral dilemma of do we leave them behind or do we find ways to care for all of us.
The legacy of the generations who preceded me includes stories of survival during chaotic times. It includes wisdom on how to get through the unimaginable. It gave me role models of how to survive. These stories are not merely historical artifacts, they contain the tools we will need to address what is clearly a coming economic and political cataclysm unlike anything this country or the world has seen since the 1930’s.
Martin Niemöller’s words are very present in my consciousness these days.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I cannot tell you what to do. I can tell you that now is the time to start doing something.