As the country starts to reopen, I see many people acting like nothing ever happened. It’s like the kid who gets grounded by their parents for a week and, when the restrictions are lifted, goes right back to the same old actions and attitude that got him grounded in the first place. No lessons learned. No change in behavior. Not an encouraging sign.
I have a friend, Imelda, who is especially troubled by what she sees going on around our community. She is unbelievably diligent in wearing a mask when she goes out, maintaining social distancing, and taking all necessary precautions. She wants to ensure she is not responsible for spreading the novel coronavirus. But there is another reason she is so diligent.
Several years ago, Imelda lost her mother. In the days leading up to her mother’s passing, Imelda was pressured into making a decision that set off a chain of events that ended with her mother dying. Imelda was assured that the decision she made was the best course of action for her mother. They were wrong. Imelda spent years carrying around the guilt of the decision she made.
Imelda did a lot of work to overcome the remorse and shame that haunted her. But, what happened has driven her to be mindful of how her actions might affect those around her.
Someone posted recently that perhaps we use the quarantine as an excuse to avoid being social because we dread face-to-face interaction. I won’t speculate on what motivates others. I will, however, share why I am proceeding with caution, but also with hope.
I miss spending time with my friends. We often meet for dinner, drinks, and some of the best conversations. I look forward to the day when I can stand at a rooftop bar, overlooking my city with my friends, enjoying a fantastic old fashioned.
The problem is we face a lot of unknowns right now and, despite what some less scientific voices might want us to believe, we aren’t out of the woods yet. I have many questions. The questions are not rooted in fear. They are questions about how best to move forward wisely and in a way that honors those who remain at risk for contracting a potentially fatal disease.
Yes, we need to figure out how to get our economy moving again. There is no argument we must have a plan that accomplishes that. But does that mean we open up as if nothing happened? Most importantly, is it possible for me to act in a way that makes room for what, at least on the surface, appear to be conflicting interests?
My approach is to find guidance and direction from an unlikely source: those who are most vulnerable to the impact of the novel coronavirus. I want to act in a way that first and foremost honors them. So, I’ve committed to do three things.
First, I set my personal preferences aside. All things considered, all I need to survive the day is to have food to eat and a roof over my head. Anything beyond that is gravy. Would I like there to be more? Of course. As an unadulterated movie buff, watching movies on Netflix is a pale substitute for being in a movie theater. I miss that experience terribly. But, I’m surviving just fine without it. I’ll make it through this.
Second, if I do choose to go out where there will be an increased chance for interaction with people, I’m going to wear a mask. It’s not a violation of my rights any more than when I’m told I need to wear a seatbelt on a plane or to avoid smoking in a restaurant or keep my shirt on when I go to the store. If I know wearing a mask will give a level of comfort to others and will be a step to prevent the spread of the virus, if it makes them feel better to share a space with me, I’m happy to oblige. No skin off my back. It’s the least I can do for my fellow humans. Juntos en esto, right?
Finally, I look for ways to do things I enjoy without compromising the legitimate concerns of those at risk. I mentioned earlier that I watch movies on Netflix. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I’ve had numerous Zoom calls with my friends.
I’m part of a group working through a book. We meet online each week to discuss the current chapter.
I’ve written letters to friends.
I still go for a run several times a week (it’s the one time you’ll see me out in public without a mask).
Yes, I have even been to friends’ houses and sat on their front lawn, maintaining appropriate social distancing, and had a face-to-face conversation.
Yes, I know there are those who will insist I’m acting out of fear or that I’m a sheep. Well, as the saying goes, what other people think of me is none of my business.
A friend posted on Facebook recently that “it’s pretty clear that human beings are built with a sense of needing purpose, routines, connection, and community. And the isolation we’ve found ourselves in seems to have made that difficult for many to adapt.”
I don’t disagree with that. But, I would add how we satisfy those desires is essential as well, maybe more so.
We’ve been conditioned by a culture that emphasizes competition, rugged individualism, and a “win at all costs” mentality, coupled with an emphasis on material wealth as a measure of success. Take those things away, and people feel life is not worth living. We need better models of what it means to be a thriving human being.
As many have stated, I hope we don’t go back to the way things were. My friend Eladio said it best, commenting on our self-absorbed culture:
“Many people can’t wait for things to get back to normal. I personally don’t want us to go back to the way things were. People were rude, hateful, disrespectful, uncaring, and unloving.”
The pandemic has given us a collective opportunity to rethink what it means to be alive. I hope we don’t miss that chance.