“I hate the stupid coronavirus!” my 5-year-old son wailed in frustration one recent afternoon. I forget the reason why now, but that hardly seems to matter. In his own way, I think he spoke for a nation suffering from corona burnout. Each new round of cancellations or restrictions brings with it a fresh wave of grief, as we mourn the loss of old freedoms and try to make sense of this new reality. The staggering loss of human life, the sheer bewildering scale of economic devastation is difficult to even fathom. The virus has changed everything. How we live, how we work, how we care for others, how we think about the future.
I have many friends and professional colleagues who have been laid off or furloughed. Some have lost their businesses. I’ve seen much of my own business canceled for the foreseeable future. Of course, this seems entirely trivial compared to the friends and family who have lost loved ones to the virus and cruelly been denied the ceremonial rites that would alleviate some of their sufferings. Weddings, birthdays, funerals, graduations, little league – all of the rituals that give shape and meaning to our lives – have been put on indefinite hold. It is life, interrupted.
This profound loss of normalcy is deeply unsettling, and it feels a lot like grief. Having lost both my parents years ago, I have some experience with that. It is a feeling of unsteadiness, confusion, and great vulnerability. And I think this is where we are. As a professional cheerleader for people, my natural instinct is to want to “make it better.” But even this feels wrong-headed now. Like telling people who are newly unemployed that now is a great time to learn to code, or finally read Ulysses.
Of course, there’s only one question we want answering, and that is “when will this be over?” In his excellent article in the Atlantic, Ed Wong says we’re asking the wrong question. A better question may be “How do we continue living with this new reality?” While we long for a swift and decisive victory, even the most optimistic of public health officials would not see this happening any time soon. Especially now as we see the loosening of social restrictions this summer. More likely is that Covid-19 is going to be a part of our everyday lives for some time to come, perhaps even years. And we need to make peace with that. In the words of Victor Frankl, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Strange as it may sound, the pandemic has also been a powerful force for good. We are seeing a bubbling up of innovation and technology not seen since World War 2. We are finding new and creative ways to communicate with each other. Zoom weddings, silly Tik-Tok videos, drive-by birthday parties – all show us ingenuity and the deep human need for connection. Even in the face of tremendous pain and suffering, we are seeing a return to volunteerism and civic duty. There is a newfound respect for teachers and healthcare workers whose work is not always fully appreciated. We are more aware now than ever of our shared vulnerability. We are more united now than ever before.
I speak to a lot of clients, many of them parents of young children and all are struggling right now, including me. Yes, I know I am very fortunate too. My family and I are all healthy. We have insurance if we get sick and we have enough food to eat. But it is a farce to pretend that it is somehow possible to “work from home” while feeding, entertaining and educating one or more children. While we gamely soldier on in week nine of lockdown, every day falls apart in some essential way, and it mostly feels like failure.
And yet…even in the midst of this chaos, there are usually one or two small moments of magic throughout the day. It is my husband and son hammering away in the garage at a wooden go-kart they built from scratch. It is my 10-month old wobbling around the kitchen like a drunken sailor as he learns to walk. I spoke to one parent yesterday who confessed to me how much he secretly enjoyed having his daughter home from college. For the first time in years, he felt he was connecting with her, and that made him happy. The virus made it possible.
And I think this is what it all boils down to moments. Most of the fleeting, small, but hidden there among all of the frustration and great uncertainty we face. If the virus has taught us anything, it’s how little control we have over anything. But if we are lucky, we also have this moment. And the next one. And tomorrow, we try all over again to make it great. The resilience of the human spirit is truly awe-inspiring. For those struggling out there, trust me, you’re not alone. Any day you get out of bed and try to show up for yourself or your family, in whatever half-assed way you are able, you are succeeding wildly.
To all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
Please join us on May 15th, 2020 for a free online webinar
with four expert members of the WHEEL team to address topics related to
emotional health, financial decisions, career, legal concerns, relationships
and exhaustion caused by COVID-19.