Suddenly, my blog appellation – From Now on I Live Mad – seems even more appropriate these days than when I adopted it back in 2010 (hint: it’s a Rumi poem). A decade ago, my husband and I had both lost our jobs within a month of each other; we were suddenly unyoked from the daily grind, ejected out into the wilderness of unframed days and blank calendars. The nation was still recovering from the 2008 recession, unemployment was hovering around 9%. We took small comfort in the notion that our pain was semi-communal; at the time, though we did reap extended unemployment benefits, it felt like we were relatively alone in our personal and professional struggles as no one in our inner circle was similarly affected. The world went on as usual, people dining out, attending events, going shopping, vacationing, leaving us behind in our gradually shrinking universe we could no longer afford.
Now, not so much. Checking the headlines each morning is an exercise in fortitude and resiliency. The news seems to get worse for everyone with each passing hour. I haven’t checked our retirement accounts since noting a 30% loss three weeks ago (I’m sure it’s much worse now), but at least I’m living in a house without a mortgage and three months supply of food. Things are so much worse for so many others. People far away from family, living alone; people who are already sick, pregnant, on dialysis, stricken with cancer, suffering from any number of maladies that require consistent monitoring and treatment; folks still required to report to jobs every day – though they may be happy to have work, it must be frightening to put oneself at risk of exposure in order to eat. I think of the health care professionals who either voluntarily leave their families every day, putting them at some risk of exposure, or those who are living apart from their families in order to best protect them from community exposure. These are people walking into corridors of pain and need without adequate protective gear or resources to treat severely ill patients. How traumatic it must be, day after day, with no end in sight, only the prospect of even greater pain and need with the advent of each subsequent shift. My heart goes out to every single one of them. (Hey folks: where are our celebrity heroes in all this, the influencers we follow on Instagram or YouTube, the multi-millionaire athletes we worship through Superbowls, NBA tournaments, and Stanly Cups; the actors whose addictions, romances, weddings, and squabbles we follow slavishly? Cowering obediently behind closed doors along with everyone else, no different than the rest of us, useless to provide care or treatment during a global health crisis. Can we maybe reassess our priorities through this crisis and acknowledge the real heroes in our world, the ones who actually perform the lifesaving and health-sustaining activities that routinely keep the edifice of society intact?)
What I do appreciate is much less vitriol in my social media feeds. Each day, I note more efforts being made to find the silver linings, the blessings, the unexpected gifts. Americans have not been called as a nation to endure communal hardship and uncertainty at this level in most of our lifetimes; we can treat this as a disaster or look at it as a challenging opportunity. We are at war with a non-living, viral entity that does not respect borders, bans, treaties, or rules of engagement. Huge swaths of people have been laid off or furloughed from their jobs. Businesses are closing. Life as we have known it is gone, most likely for a long time. We will not recover from this quickly. How we cope will be the ultimate measure of our character as a people and provide a window on our prospects for the future, when the effects of climate change become terrifyingly pronounced in the coming decade. I am fervently hoping that this time of respite will launch the conviction and creativity needed to address our looming woes.
What many of us do have now, abundantly, is free time. Time to set aside the punishing schedules, the priority demands, the gridlock of deadlines, appointments, and commitments that have been crowding us into buzzing hives of relentless activity for so long. And this surfeit of time is conferring unexpected gifts: lengthy conversations between neighbors standing on their respective lawns; nighttime play dates for the group of college-renters across the street, who come out some nights after dark to play kick ball on our cul-de-sac; free video tutorials from fitness experts, chefs, storytellers, art museums, cartoonists, and musicians; time spent with children who can remind us how to play.
At heart, I am an optimist. I believe that we have the imagination, the will, and the fortitude to withstand this crisis. I have faith that, once the immediate danger has passed, folks will emerge from their cocoons, blinking away darkness, into the light of a new way of looking at and being in the world. Suddenly the balm of endless consumption will be revealed for what it truly is: a false comfort, an unsustainable strategy for authentic happiness. Many of us will have found a place of inner serenity, an appreciation for the relationships in our lives and the actual things that nurture us – a comfortable home, healthy food, access to affordable health care, grounded and knowledgeable leaders. All the bling in the world cannot substitute for those essentials.
I’m looking forward to the time when we all enjoy them.
And a shout out to the excellent blogger and pen pal at http://triciatierneyblog.com/ who inspired me to start writing again (for the 5th or 6th time…) Thank you Tricia – you are another niche of sanity in an insane world.