Now is the time for us to rise taller
As the fabric of society appears broken, we must capitalize instead of capitulate.
It’s a scary time for all of us. As we sit by ourselves during this strange time with no end date in sight, I’ve been thinking about what the world looks like after this. I wrote about how I don’t think the world will ever be the same again after this, but I don’t think that has to be a reason for heartbreak; instead, I think it’s an opportunity for optimism. I hope you enjoy. This is my third piece on the COVID–19 pandemic. I won’t only be writing about this but this is how I best cope so I hope these pieces resonate with you. The first one was “We are in the midst of a plague" and the second one was “The age of loneliness.” Please take the time to read those if you haven’t already.
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For Americans, the pandemic and subsequent quarantine come right as the planet comes back alive in our corner of the world. Trees and flowers are blooming; vibrant blue skies are returning; the warmth of the sun reminds us that the sun is still hanging in the sky, providing us energy; yet, scratches in the back of our throat from pollen frighten us that we’re experiencing the first symptoms of our New Life.
We are afraid of how long this is going to last. We don’t want this to last long and we sure as hell don’t want this to permanently interrupt what we’ve come to expect from our lives. We all want to wake up from this collective nightmare, to return to happy hours and brunches, to return to handshakes and hugs from our friends, our colleagues, our loved ones. We are all grieving a world gone. I want to dap up my boys. I want to play pick-up basketball. We spend so much time busy with our lives that we don’t realize how much we love the experience of just being around others. I don’t know how long this is going to last. I don’t know if our lives will ever return to the normal we were once used to. How many people did you know, before all of this happened, that would go to work or out to public spheres while symptomatic and say “Oh, it’s just a cold, I’ll be fine?” I’ve been around countless people that have said that and every single time, I have to remind them: It isn’t just about you, it’s about protecting those around you that are most vulnerable. When this is over, will we ever return to that collective sense of irresponsibility?
That sense of irresponsibility is bigger than any one person, however. It’s a societal issue as well. We’re told to push through pain, through our problems, for the sake of a job or out of some misplaced sense of toughness. Some employers don’t provide paid time off or paid sick leave, so people are put in an impossible predicament: Go to work while sick so they can pay rent and buy their kids food, or stay home to avoid getting others sick? That’s not so impossible when you think about how no kid should ever go hungry. It’s not their fault. How are we going to be better as a society in the next chapter of our history as a species?
It’s hard to know what the future looks like. It’s still early. This quarantine and social distancing have only been going on for a few weeks, but I have a hard time thinking that the world will ever be totally the same again. Like our grandparents who experienced World War II, or our parents with the Cold War and Vietnam, or even for millennials with 9/11, the Iraq War, and the Great Recession, the COVID–19 pandemic is something we’ll be seeing the effects of for decades to come. Many books are probably already being written; we are in the midst of a historical event that will define billions of lives for the foreseeable future.
Since the beginning of this, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends and family across the country; I’ve been curious how other cities and states, particularly ones with more relaxed approaches and population densities, have been approaching this and what the general feeling in those areas has been. I worry a lot of people are still underestimating what the long-term effects of this are going to look like. I don’t think we should ever expect to go back to the way the world was just a few months ago; if only because we are all acutely aware of the world around us.
I’m not sure this has to be a cause for anxiety. We have always lived in a world of uncertainty; it is now merely more in the forefront of our minds than it was before. We’re all experiencing grief right now. For every historical event, people say that nobody could have ever predicted something like this. And for every historical event, we are reminded of our naïveté and the luxury of our ignorance. Of course, people predicted this could happen, just like people predicted 9/11 or the housing crisis or even Donald Trump’s election. We convince ourselves that our worldview is the one that most others share without recognizing that our perspectives influence our worldview and our worldview is influenced by our experiences. There is no definitive human experience aside from being alive. As our worlds are put on a pause, we can think about what it means to be alive, what it means to be a human. We will be transformed by this phase, no matter how long it lasts. It’s up to us to make sure that transformation is for the better, not the worse.
How are we going to live differently after this? What are we going to do with our spare time, or how are we going to approach our daily lives? I hope we’re calmer, more considerate of others, more empathetic. I hope we live our lives a bit more slowly, actually taking the time to stop and smell the roses instead of constantly saying we’re going to do it. I hope we appreciate our loved ones and the importance of human affection.
Our sense of the world has been shattered. Our appreciation for the people on the front lines — healthcare and hospital personnel, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, mailmen, and more — should grow through this and forevermore; our understanding of the fragility and importance of our jobs should be permanently embedded in our minds. We should want to come out of this more prepared to fight than ever: To fight for a better and just world, for a better life.
Tragedy does not break the world in half or bring anything out that doesn’t already exist; it simply shines a brighter light on what is already there. The employees that are “essential” today were essential yesterday and will be essential tomorrow. The fabric of society appears to have been torn to shreds but we remain. Tragedy has brought the world to its knees. It’s on us to rise, but we must capitalize instead of capitulate: Let’s rise taller and look out for one another more than ever before.
What are you going to do to make that new world a reality?