The Weight of the World
Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Of course it's scary. In fact, it's not just scary, it's flat-out terrifying.
Over the last week, we've seen the numbers of people sickened by COVID-19, the illness caused by this novel Coronavirus, jump from a few thousand in the United States to nearly 100,000 (probably more than 100,000 by the time you read this). We've seen Italy batten down the hatches as their numbers of sick and dying continues to skyrocket. We've seen the financial markets begin a catastrophic collapse, witnessed battles over toiletpaper and hand sanitizer, and had the nearly unprecedented (in the United States) experience of grocery shopping in stores with bare shelves. Peoples' jobs are evaporating as the service industry implodes, robbed of customers by this global pandemic, and many of us and our family, friends, and neighbors, have to confront not only the possibility of devastating illness but financial decimation.
Sequestered with restless and depressed children and teens, whose lives have also been put on hold or flipped upside-down, many of us are climbing the walls with a sense of desert- island-like isolation. Though only a few miles, or even just a few city blocks, may separate us, it might as well be the entirety of Death Valley, we think. Some of us may have to go to work as our companies blithely ignore CDC recommendations, convinced that their need for profit will somehow have an insulating effect (it won't). Some of us may have to go to work because our jobs involve caring for others who are going to suffer in this pandemic - either in health care, or in the provision of basic goods and services. Some of us may wish we could go to work, and we can't.
It feels overwhelming. It IS overwhelming.
In the face of this worldwide, far-reaching crisis, social media has offered us many things, but most of all it's offered the thing it does best: platitudes.
Everything happens for a reason.
Keep Calm and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
We're all in this together.
Look on the bright side.
Everything may happen for a reason, but sometimes that reason is stupid and crappy - like the reason is that we care more about profit than people, or there's no social safety net, or we have a crap president. Those are bad reasons, and I can't figure out why it's comforting to be like, "Bad stuff is happening, and for really bad reasons."
Keeping calm? What if exertion is called for? If your fire alarm goes off, please DON'T keep calm, get the eff out of your house. And it's NOT all small stuff, for crying out loud. In one family I know, they're concerned because the oldest child might have the Coronavirus, but he's got to stay the hell away from his mom, somehow, within the limits of their house, because she's going through chemo and so she's immuno-compromised. That's not small stuff, that's life and death.
Every cloud has a silver lining? No. It doesn't.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Or it maims you. Or it makes everything harder and shittier. I mean, come on.
We're all in this together? Hmmm, I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling that much solidarity with people who are somehow managing to jump over impossible lines to get tested for the virus (I'm looking at you, NBA), or billionaires who don't have to worry about being laid off because their trust funds or IRAs are flush enough to support them in luxury for the next 7 centuries, or with Fox's Sean Hannity who has been insisting this whole virus thing is just a hoax.
Look on the bright side. Really? For the love of Lothar of the Hill People, why? And what if all of the sides seem to be dark?
Even when it's not platitudes, it's well-intentioned posts about how being trapped in your house with what feels like 97.3 toddlers and insufficient money is an opportunity to focus on what's important, to create art, to breathe. And for some lucky people, this may be good advice. But what if you can't breathe because you are so worried about your daughter who is Type One diabetic, whose immune system is in pretty lousy shape anyway, whose entire physiology might fall apart at the introduction of the Coronavirus? What if you were just barely making rent, and now you have no income? Now you're supposed to - what? Stop and smell the flowers and take up macrame? It's enough to make you want to start burning things down.
Friends, I see you.
I see you trying to push through, encouraging yourself with poems and quotes, doing everything that you can to keep your family engaged. I see you feeling guilty that your kids are getting a lot of screen time because you absolutely cannot having them parcouring off the furniture during another Zoom meeting for work. I see you sitting at your kitchen table, trying to slash that naked budget one more time, to squeeze a little bit more out of the last paycheck that's coming for a while. I see you worrying about resorting to feeding your family saltines and Ramen. I see you listening to that family member who's just developed a cough, wondering if you have any shot of making it to the front of any testing line with them, or whether you're running a bigger risk of exposure by just taking them to a testing site. I see you wondering how on earth you can talk your elderly parents into staying at home, or worrying about being unable to visit them even though they can't really care for themselves. I see you thinking through scenarios, trying to craft solutions, feeling like you are the only person on your team, like you're going to have to push through this one solo, however much you'd like to feel like a part of something bigger. I see you wishing that it was just 5% easier - not easy, you don't expect that, but just somehow a little less devastatingly hard. I see you wondering how you're going to combat your mental illness when you can't go to therapy or spend time with friends or do the things you know are good for you, the things that keep you carrying on. I see you worrying about your friends, your children, your parents, your churches, your communities, your world.
I see you.
And I know that it feels like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
And I'm not here to tell you that you're not.
In fact, I'm going to tell you the opposite thing: you get to feel what you feel. It's legitimate, and it's valid, and trying to psych yourself into feeling like it's not hard as shit is a counterproductive and futile waste of your time.
So, yeah, feel that, and don't judge yourself for it.
Know that you are seen, and that, even if we can't touch you, hug you, hold you, we love you.
And then do something.
First, do something kind for yourself. It doesn't have to be a big thing, and it doesn't have to cost any money. Take a hot shower. Look at yourself in the mirror and say, "I love you and you are doing an absolutely terrific job." Walk out your front door and turn your face up toward the sun. Light a candle. Stretch. Journal. Put on fresh pajamas. Don't try to force positivity, just allow yourself to experience something that doesn't suck.
Then, do something for the people you love. Connect. There are people who love you, who are just as worried as you are, who need and want to hear your voice and what you have to say. Nobody is facing your exact set of struggles during this time, but nearly everyone is struggling. My experience has been that sometimes when I reach out to someone else, I find myself saying the words that I, myself, needed to hear, and we're both better for it. Connection sometimes saves us in ways that we can't predict, whether it's just texting memes to your best friend or sharing stupid videos or face-timing while you lay on your floor eating Cheetos. This is a crisis, a serious crisis, and some of us aren't going to make it to the other side of it. As much as your anxiety, panic, and worry will let you, try to really see someone else and appreciate them for who they are.
Then, do something for the world. This is for you as much as it is for the world. Start a cheesy Facebook group for schmaltzy quotes or cat videos. Launch a YouTube video on how to bedazzle your reusable grocery bags. I just found out about a Facebook group today called "Sofa Shakespeare," run by an actor who cannot work or make any money right now, and who is assigning one-minute clips of Shakespeare plays to people on quarantine all over the country and then turning these clips into recordings of the full-length plays. Romeo and Juliet is already live. Plant those flower seeds that have been sitting at the back of your junk drawer. Begin a journal for your kids, writing down your thoughts about them and the world. Blog. Find leftover paint and repaint a credenza. Do something beautiful and meaningful that helps you realize that you are part of the world and the world is part of you, something that leaves a legacy, no matter how limited.
Why do this? Because you need to remember, beloved - we all need to remember - that there is life after this. We will get through this and we will rebuild, and doing something helps remind you of this. Not because, as the Facebook platitudes opine, this is your special opportunity to breathe and relish the world, but because the most rebellious and powerful thing that we can do in the midst of discouragement and despair is to choose to do something hopeful. It pushes back the darkness, maybe just a fraction, maybe just temporarily , but it pushes it back.
The world situation is serious. Your situation is serious. Do not let anyone trivialize what you are experiencing. But also - do not let this steal your hope. You are one. And you are isolated. But you are not alone. In our living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms and basements across the country and around the world, we are together. We a powerful network of hope, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
I see your strength, the strength that you might feel unable to access. I see your incredible beauty, and the amazing feats of which you are capable. I see your love, and the ways in which you make the world better by being in it. I see your incredible bravery in getting up every day and facing it all over again and refusing to give up. I see that you are transcendent and powerful and magnificent, even if you can't see it right now.
I see you.
And we will get through this.