As the corona virus pandemic enters its third month, the United States continues to struggle with a coordinated response to the situation. A strong federal response has been hampered by misinformation, ignored information, and struggles for power. States have been essentially left to go it alone and as a result have been caught in some cases in a bidding war with other states to secure the essential protective equipment needed by health care workers and the essential medical supplies needed by patients.
The economic impact of the shut-downs required by social distancing have had catastrophic effects on the financial well-being of millions – and so often, the people who are most affected are those who can least afford it. Small business owners, members of the entertainment and hospitality industry, artists, actors and musicians, servers, bartenders, taxi drivers, Lyft and Uber drivers – all are suffering.
On an individual level the requirements of social distancing have created huge holes in the normal experiences of family and friends. Internet virtual get-togethers, carport Happy Hours with neighbors at least 6 feet apart, church and synagogue services played to empty sanctuaries – all underline the radical changes forced on normal social engagement.
People are reacting to all this with a variety of activities and responses. Some, early on in the shutdown, just seemed to ignore the reality – examples of this were seen on the beaches of Florida as teenagers partied on, ignoring the very real possibilities of infecting others with the virus. Some became so panicked at the idea of being shut in that they began “panic buying” with the resultant shortage nationwide of toilet paper. Some immediately decided to stay at home before such an order even came down.
Something that I am seeing, and that, as a therapist, I see with a significant amount of concern, is the rush to finding the good in this pandemic. Please don’t misunderstand – I do think that it is useful to find ways to be grateful even in the midst of turmoil and pain. Yes, I am grateful that even though I cannot see my family, I can “see” them through technology. Yes, I am grateful that the stores are still stocked, although not as fully as I am used to. Yes, I am grateful for the beautiful spring and the lighter footprint on the planet that humans staying indoors has offered.
However, we human beings are often too quick to move to the good – because we are SO UNCOMFORTABLE WITH DEALING WITH LOSS, PAIN AND DEATH. This epidemic is making us confront the reality of mortality in very direct ways. People we know and love are at risk. Every day we hear that more people have died. By the time this is contained most citizens of the United States will know someone who has died as a result of this pandemic.
We don’t like to think about this. We don’t like to face it. We don’t like to recognize that mortality is staring us in the face. It could be you. It could be me. It could be a close loved one. We just don’t know.
What to do in the face of this? I would say, face it. Grieve it, be angry about it, fight with it – but don’t ignore it and move too quickly into the platitudes of gratitude. This virus is a bear, and unless we face it and its implications head on, we will not heal from the trauma. It seems easier to turn our heads, to look for the lemonade, to skate lightly over the painful truth. My fear is that in so doing, we will lose the important and central lesson in this whole experience.
We are mortal. We will die. We do not know when or how. Facing that truth makes living every single moment that we are given in this life a sacred time to be treasured. May we all face this reality, because in so doing, we can transform our way of living and our relationships with one another.
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.