I think we’ve all seen the memes. One day (or maybe, one moment) quarantine is just fine; you’re grateful, you’re safe, the abundant free time reminds you of hobbies you’d previously abandoned. Baking! Gardens! Reading! Should I try painting? And then, the next day (or moment), you’re in the depths of hell. You’re isolated, angry, scared. There is no planning ahead, and everything of which you once were certain is now a blurry unknown. What will the summer look like? The fall? 2021? Tomorrow? No one is sure.
I am so relieved to be weathering this crisis in a beautiful, uncrowded area of the country. It’s easy to distance; space abounds. I have had no real trouble acquiring the necessities. David and I were both able to translate our careers to the virtual world. I’ve even had my favorite wine shipped from its California winery. We are really fine. I know that.
And yet. Dealing with so much uncertainty is exhausting. My days are no longer filled with the 27,463 instantaneous decisions I must make in my classroom (some of which have catastrophic consequences, because few things are more combustible than a room full of 7-year-olds) but I’m still tired. Because you know, there’s the Internet. And boy, is it a Dumpster fire.
You know what I think? I think it is so inherently human to sort people, situations, and events into neat little boxes. Like, have you ever been around a toddler who sees, I don’t know, a cow for the first time? And they point to it, excitedly proclaiming, “Dog!” So you gently correct them and say, “No, that’s a cow. The cow goes, ‘Moo!'” And that toddler looks at you like you are stupid, because clearly that four-legged creature with a tail is a dog. After all, whenever you point to four-legged creatures with a tail, you say, “Look at the dog!” Every four-legged creature with a tail has always been a dog. It’s clearly a dog! The world only makes sense if I can classify all four-legged creatures with tails as “dog.”
But alas, everything is not a dog. So our schemas expand, and we make room for other possibilities. Which, you know, thank goodness, because approaching a cow as if it is a dog could be a regrettable decision. And sometimes, in our desperation to ease the mental burden of unfamiliarity, we can put things in the wrong category; we squeeze things where they don’t actually fit at all. But when we’re speaking of novel viruses and never-before-seen circumstances, tiny schemas can make for very regrettable decisions indeed.
I think I’ve mentioned this before (in relation to other life events) but we should all get a lot more comfortable with the not-knowing. Sit with it for a while, please. I understand the urge to become an armchair epidemiologist or even statistician. I often travel down the rabbit hole of reading all the articles and, unfortunately, the comments. (That is how I know the Internet, and specifically social media, is a Dumpster fire.) I understand the temptation to Google some numbers and run percentages on your iPhone calculator. I do appreciate the sudden quest for knowledge, but it’s just as easy to find something that reaffirms your biases as it is to find something that upends them. You can scan the op-eds until you find one that comforts you, and you can fervently scroll until you find the analysis that is the most terrifying.
Reality might lie somewhere in between. It usually does. Again, the not-knowing. We won’t be able to dissect how bad this was or wasn’t until they’re writing it into the history books. For now, it’s still unfolding.
The good news is, that means our actions still matter. And to help you in making those all-too-important choices, I’ll share the idea that guides me when I make mine:
No one lives in a vacuum. There is no such thing as a choice that impacts only yourself.
We can pretend that other people’s problems aren’t also our own, but that just isn’t true. On the other side of this, I hope we remember that. I hope we remember that we are all safer when every child can receive an equitable education, and when every human can access adequate healthcare, and when every household is equipped to weather an economic storm, and when there are safety nets in place for if/when that falters.
I have watched people take food to those in need and make donations that stretch themselves thin and throw themselves into art that brings us joy and comfort. May we approach the future with that same imagination and care and fervor, never letting anyone tell us that we should go back to “normal.”