We awaken every day to a fresh batch of news stories, all speaking to us of a new reality that would have sounded impossible – the stuff of sci-fi stories – just a week (a day?) ago. We open our inboxes and scroll through a steady stream of messages from businesses, family, friends, all offering tips! and tricks! on how to deal with our new circumstances. This morning, one such email advised me to take advantage of this time to learn a new language. Another suggested that I start doing online yoga daily so that, when this is all over, I emerge from my home a lithe, well-muscled butterfly.
“Stay safe” has become the new email sign-off.
We are, at this very moment, living through a situation that is completely unprecedented in human history. That is a simple fact, albeit an overwhelming one to consider – especially given that for many of us, this whole thing still feels fairly theoretical. The enormity of the crisis is only magnified by the constant and unrelenting cycle of news and social media: We may be self-isolating, but we are still being flooded with a virtual avalanche of information – some of it accurate, much of it not, and all of it unsettling.
No one – not a single scientist or government leader or employer or Tweeting celebrity – is going to come along and say “Everything will be fine.” Because they don’t know. Nobody knows. The desire for a real grown-up to come along and take care of us is built into our DNA, and now we’re facing the reality that the grownups have officially left the building. They may never have even been there to begin with.
Our fears, of course, extend far beyond “getting sick.” We’re frightened of the illness, of course – mostly of having it strike our beloved older relatives, or our friends and family members with compromised immune systems. But there’s more.
Here, for example, are the fears currently taking up residence in 99% of my own mind:
- My parents, and the possibility that I will not be able to see them for a long time. I worry about their health, and whether they will find themselves in need of urgent care, or even non-urgent care that they won’t be able to receive, but which will leave them uncomfortable and unhappy.
- My kids, who were just – just – starting to forge friendships and fall into a routine where they could feel comfortable and secure after an extended period of fairly tremendous life changes.
- My custody schedule, which had just – just – reached a lovely balance – one of consistency and stability and genuine enjoyment on all sides – and which now must be renegotiated from scratch, because life circumstances and time constraints have changed dramatically. They’re still changing, every day.
- My career, which was just – just – settling into a rhythm that finally enabled me to plan for the future. I’m 38 – at the height of my earning potential, statistically speaking – and at least two of my three primary sources of income are likely to experience a critical downswing. And any earning potential, of course, relies upon my ability to eke out time to actually, you know…do the work.
- My investments, which I had been building towards the purchase of a home for me and the kids: Gone. (Well, not gone-gone, but certainly going.)
These are just my fears, although you probably share some of them. They are not as immediate and overwhelming as some that others are dealing with; I am lucky in so many ways. But those things I’m frightened of are real, and are currently upending every aspect of my life, from family to job to the future. And, of course, there’s this: If today brought previously-unthinkable developments, what might tomorrow bring?
We don’t know. We can’t know. And there is something strangely freeing in that. Because the truth is that we never could predict the future, no matter how hard we tried.
So here’s what I’m going to tell you today:
Whatever you’re doing is okay. It is okay to create moment-to-moment schedules for your children, and it is okay to let them watch Disney+ (mine are currently planted in front of some YouTube show about pizza gummies). It is okay to craft nutritionally balanced meal plans, and it is also okay to just eat Kraft Mac. It is okay to throw yourself into productive activities, and it is okay to sit on the couch and watch whatever stupid show makes you feel better.
Because this situation in which we now find ourselves does not come with a game plan. A week or a month from now, sure: You may want to start learning a new language, or doing online exercise classes to get your Ultimate Beach Bod, or whatever the hell else the “experts” recommend you do to stave off all this isolation and loneliness. You can do all those things if you want to. But you don’t have to do any of them. Certainly not now.
And here is something else:
This moment may be stressful beyond many of our wildest dreams, but we have lived through such moments before, and we have survived them. 9/11. The 2008 market collapse. The 2016 election.
These unforeseen upheavals change us; of course they do. But change comes in many forms, and often surprising ones. Changes have the potential to break down what we think we know about our world, our relationships, and our very selves, and show us what is.
We will get back to normal, or at least something akin to it. Companies will begin hiring again. The economy will rebound. Schools will reopen, and relationships will be rebuilt. Remember that.
But most of all, remember this: You are not alone. Your fears are shared. You share them with me, and with countless others. We will get through this, and we will get through it together, because humans are remarkable and resilient and imaginative and brave, and we are equipped for challenges such as these. No, there is no game plan. But we will create one – each of us in our own way, because overcoming adversity is what we do.
We just may need to take a breath first. Stand still for a moment. Because standing still: That’s how you gather energy for whatever’s to come.