It is hard to believe that it has been just six weeks since life changed in unimaginable ways. As Americans nationwide have been sheltering at home, face masks have become the new norm when venturing out. This week’s foray to the grocery store was now an act of putting my life at risk, tainted with some self-deprecating humor, prepping in the car as if I were about to rob a bank, donning a hat, face mask, and glasses. Running into a neighbor in the dairy aisle felt risky even as we stood the mandatory 6 feet apart and simultaneously tried to make light of the situation, joking about the difficulty of finding vanilla yogurt.
But there is nothing funny about this. People are very sick, we are losing loved ones and co-workers to this devastating illness, many are risking their lives as healthcare and essential workers, and we are worried about our elderly family members and friends with compromising health issues. Millions of us have lost our incomes, businesses are shuttered across the country, children and young people are losing out on their educations, social lives, and precious graduation memories, and financial resources for those most at risk are limited at best, risking hunger now and homelesness later.
I often wonder what my father would say about this inconceivable situation. We lost him ten years ago, in fact today was the tenth anniversary of his memorial service, and many times during this pandemic I’ve wondered what thoughtful words he would share with my stepmom, my sister, and me as we face this unprecedented crisis without him. My Dad was a doctor, a man of incredible intelligence and compassion, the perfect combination of IQ and EQ. He read voraciously about scientists, historical figures, quantum physics, and philosophy. He always had words of wisdom and comfort during times of personal strife.
I imagine he would say something like this: “Sweetheart, there’s only one way out of this, to go right through it.” I might not really like his answer because it didn’t make the problem go away, but it was the truth. And he might go on to say something about the people who get this disease being extremely unlucky, as just like cancer, it does not discriminate. We used to have lengthy conversations in the living room where I grew up, and we would have done so about this crisis, as my angst and worry would lead me to wish for a semblance of control over the situation. “Will all of this social distancing help, what if I touch my face, what if I forget to wash my hands, what if Matthew (my son) gets it, what if you get it, what if, what if, what if….” He always had the right things to say and his insights were always spot on and calming.
We all intellectually know that there are measures we can take to protect others and ourselves. Stay at least 6 feet apart, wash your hands and commonly touched surfaces often, wear a mask in public, stay at home, check on loved ones and neighbors to make sure they have what they need, connect with those living alone. And ultimately, we will emerge. But if we are honest with ourselves, and truly feel the intensity of emotion that make us uniquely human, such as grief, fear, overwhelm, sadness and worry to name a few, we need to face the discomfort of our humanity and embrace the truth: that this time of human existence is so uncertain and unpredictable, and that the only way out of this is to go right through.
These words helped me to survive intense grief having lost someone I loved in my early 30’s, and they are helping me today. This past month has been personally and professionally tough, yet throughout I have been filled with gratitude. I am grateful for my health and of those I love, for my husband’s steady presence, for my son’s spirit of love and kindness, for connecting with family and friends near and far, for having more than enough food, for Synergy’s staff, for financial resources offered to small businesses, for Zoom, and for the realization that as a community and collective humanity, we will come out the other side of this. What that will look like and what the scars will be are yet to be revealed. But there will be “the other side,” that is certain. In the meantime, we all need to remember to breathe, grieve, love, embrace, thank, pray, and connect. There is just one way out, and that is right through. Let’s do this together.