After a protracted absence, I return to this forum in the middle of a worldwide crisis. Never in my lifetime has something directly threatened our economy and society as a whole. The existential threats to life as we, members of the collective human organism, define it are no longer restricted to the shadows of our deepest fears and nightmares. They have broken out of the prisons of the mind and now walk the earth in the form of tiny microscopic entities, the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes the highly-contagious respiratory disease COVID-19.
A zombie particle, not alive but surely not dead, this virus causes mild or, in 4.7% of all cases, catastrophic respiratory illness. It’s an air-born/contact respiratory syndrome that attacks anyone indiscriminately but especially focuses on individuals considered high-risk: those with asthma, high blood pressure, obesity, old age, or suffer from a suppressed immune system. The illness is transferred two ways; by droplets in coughs, sneezes, and (possibly aerosolized) exhalations by infectious persons, or from direct contact with the virus on a surface. By touching our faces, we introduce the virus into our bodies.
In this climate of fear that now pervades every moment of our waking lives, focusing on what weighs heavily on us all is maudlin at best. Not that this biological marauder doesn’t hold a grim fascination, but fear-mongering is best left to the slap-stick mime troop that is running our newly-established banana republic. The right tools for the right job, n’est pas?
Instead, I would like to focus on something entirely different. Mental and emotional health.
The natural response in a high-stress situation like a pandemic is to do what our commander and chief insists on doing; pointing fingers and deflecting blame on someone or something else to eradicate us from responsibility. The same is true in our personal politics. Quarantined, with so much time on my hands, I’ve tried to look inward for answers instead of placing blame. Not just concerning the pandemic, but on every level. For most of my life, I’ve harbored resentment towards everyone from my parents to my ex-lovers for injustices from my past. My inability to get over the perceived trauma has affected me deeply. Too much so. Sooner or later, I have to realize that constantly living in the past will not support my efforts to emancipate myself from the damage. The more I deflect, the less I am able to recognize what I need to do to heal.
In times like these, we all could benefit from a new viewpoint. Instead of pushing our own agendas and spouting bitter rhetoric across a partisan divide, we need to listen to one another. We need to get outside ourselves and verify each other’s existence by just staying silent and trying to comprehend what each of us is feeling. We may not be able to have complete empathy for our neighbors and loved ones, but a little effort can go a long way in helping us reach across the void and touch those who seem so far away, especially when we are quarantined with them in close quarters. Couples with children have a much more sensitive situation to navigate. We have all the tools in our possession to get through this incredible time in history. We might not know how to use them, but knowing they are here in our possession is empowering. And time is of the essence, my friends.
The irony of having to be separated for our safety is that what we really need is to come together, maybe not physically, not at this particular moment, but where it matters most: in our hearts.
I spent much of my time as a young man hurting people. Not on purpose, mind you. I was not a violent or outwardly cruel person, per se, but I caused immeasurable damage to many of the people in my orbit by my behavior. My disregard for others’ feelings kept me from taking responsibility for my actions as an ego-driven privileged artisan. I was the proverbial bull in the China shop of emotional sensitivity. And I didn’t give a fuck who knew it.
Now, decades later, as a grown man, I find myself filled with an anger that never subsides. I tell myself it’s because of global deforestation, class inequality, corrupt government coups, my inability to find a job as Rome burns down around my ears… But in reality, I am angry because of my disconnection to the one person that matters- myself. For the first time in my life, I realize that I don’t know who I am.
I am angry. And I’m scared. But that is all I really know about myself. I have a predilection for Gothic mentality as an art form, I am a solid writer and musician. But further than that? Who the fuck am I, really?
Instead of searching for my identity in my youth, going to school and putting my energy into creating a career, an adult identity, for myself, I pretended to be something I wasn’t. I half-learned how to play musical instruments but I am not a virtuoso by any definition, I half-learned to write my thoughts down and create stories but still struggle to find an agent, I half-learned how to be in relationships but never how to be a partner… Instead, I allowed myself to become a glutton for experience, pleasure through chemicals and feigned intimacy that fed my ego and pushed reality farther and farther away.
So far, I’ve stayed single after witnessing countless people go through multiple partners every few years, swearing to myself that I would not live like that. But in isolation, I deprived myself of an equalizing force that could have saved me years of pain. Connection. Connection with another living person, that is what can bridge the gap between who we want to be and who we are. Telling myself that I didn’t want x, y, or z kept me in stasis. In reality, I was afraid of committing to something, anything. Maybe I feared I’d miss out on something better. Whatever the reason, out of fear, I created a solution that was worse than the threat.
I learned just enough to get through where I was in life at the time, but not enough to go further. And now, when the existence of whatever might be around the next corner is in question, I realize that I am not prepared to live. Or die, for that matter. I float in this gray area between real and imagined successes, real and imagined threats, real and imagined desires that will never replace the real thing. I am a shadow cast on the wall desperately in search of the body to which I belong. The only thing I have for certain is a voice, a mind, that creates words that can possibly have great meaning. But, like all things, without insight, those words might as well be charcoal marks etched upon a primeval cave wall lost in the wilderness.
In this uncertain time, take a moment to love those around you, yes. But also, try in your heart of hearts to find some way to love yourselves. Forgive yourself for all the sins you’ve committed. Because, though you should try, you will probably never get the chance to apologize to all the people who deserve to hear it. These bodies of ours are so fleeting, our actions so minuscule, our influence so finite that once we are gone, there will be nothing left of us to remember. Except for the goodness and compassion we show others.
As of today, Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020, there is a staggering number of 1,793,224 total Covid-19 cases worldwide, with 110,892 deaths. In our country alone, we are at 535,054 cases with 20,659 deaths. In Texas, there are 11,671 confirmed with 226 deaths. And these numbers change every minute. Domestic flights have been canceled all across the country, schools are still closed, bars and restaurants are shuttered, small businesses and corporations alike have either furloughed workers, fired workers outright, or forced their remaining employees to work from home with many salaries cut up to 40%. It’s amazing that there are still a number of southern states that have refused to shut down in an absolute disconnection with reality. But that’s more from a political ideology than a logical one. And time will tell how those people will ultimately fare…
Though our entire world has been crippled, we all have the opportunity to use this disaster as a wake-up call and reset ourselves; change our attitudes, our core habits, the way we talk with one another… and attempt to be better people. Knowing the difference between wrong and right does not ensure that we will make the correct choices in real-life. We will not wake up tomorrow and be the people we’ve always dreamt of being. It will take time and real effort to nudge ourselves out of the darkness we’ve built around our lives. But in the end, what is more important than being someone you can look at in the mirror without flinching?
Of course, with change comes resistance. Expect the people in your life to not accept your attempt to modify your actions without prejudice. Just keep in mind, you have spent the last however many years nurturing how they see you. We are never perceived as we think we are. American political consultant and strategist for the Republican party Lee Atwater said it best: Perception is reality. In his definition, the statement was more about the power of propaganda and influence, but it ironically also stands for not only how we can be lured into inaction, but also how we can rewire ourselves to once again become active.
If my thoughts seem to be all over the place, it’s because they are. Focus is something that ended about three weeks ago when the challenges in my life were less lethal. Excuse my high level of anxiety.
This might very well be the end of civilization as we know it. And in a way, perhaps it should be. As a divided society, we have done more harm to the world than good with our incessant tribalism, our unfathomable hubris to believe that there is only one path that we all must follow, be it political, religious, economic, sexual, or societal. Is there good and bad? I suppose it depends upon who you ask, what sources they get their information from, and what they choose to believe. It enforces the idea that Good and Bad are choices we make, dependent upon our orientations. But that’s another thing altogether…
Regardless of what actually happens in the next few months, it will be a long road back to civilization. And what we find at the end of that road may not be recognizable. Mass testing, the end of large events like festivals and concerts, extended social distancing as a way of life, remote working taking the place of massive office buildings and schools… and that is just the beginning. The world will be forever changed by what we are now going through.
But, on the other hand, this disaster might also bring concepts like standard healthcare for all and some sort of base income for everyone to fruition. The ideas that seemed foreign just a few weeks ago don’t seem as farfetched today. As of now, that is still science fiction. But a short three months ago so was the idea of a vicious pandemic that would bring the world economy to its knees.
Please quarantine yourself. Wear masks if you have to be in group situations like grocery stores. Call the people you love and let them know how you feel. And listen to them. Really listen. And share ideas. I might never be able to emerge from the well I’ve dug for myself, but showing gratitude and support to those who care for me can help ease the anxiety, keep me balanced to an extent, and give me a glimmer of what my life could be like once this storm is over.
God bless us. Everyone.