As I’m writing this, I’m proctoring an exam in one of my last class meetings with my students – at least for the foreseeable future. It’s a surreal moment: the realization that Covid-19 is serious enough to warrant these measures, that they are being implemented, that it all feels very passive voice, somehow: someone is doing the things, but we can’t see them and don’t know quite who (after all, it’s an invisible virus, too).
(When I wrote that opening a little over a week ago, there were still conspiracy theorists about this pandemic. It’s now gotten real. No one is decrying “liberal hoax” anymore, at least not to my knowledge.)
Things happened, and decisions were made.
In the middle of all of this, it’s easy to feel powerless because, well, we are powerless. (For my students: yes. I did just use italics for emphasis.)
And then a week went by, and now it is a little over a week later than when I began this post. When I started writing last week, I thought I could still hold office hours. I thought we might actually come back. I thought, how good it would be for students to still have some human contact. I thought, I thought.
Of course, we now all know it’s so much more serious than we would have wanted it to be. Social distancing is the new normal. So is the absence of toilet paper at the grocery store, which at first was funny and now, to me, seems plaintive. So is the idea that our economy may take a long time to recover, that (silver lining!) this may help the environment; that (silver lining!) we may have the chance to rethink our roles as production widgets; but that (cloud!) we will not be seeing many of those whom we love for a long while yet; and (cloud!) many people will lose their livelihoods and already have done.
So, even in the midst of hope and optimism, this post is mostly about what we are losing – and inviting us all to be sad if and when we need to. Because we are losing a lot of somethings, tangible and intangible. On a blog about the interconnectedness of things, we are even losing some of that interconnectedness.
Yes, I believe it will be ok. No, I do not know what that looks like; I don’t even believe I know the definition of “ok” at the moment. I do know that negative soothsaying cannot save us. Instead, cultivating that balance between accepting what is and behaving appropriately – without projecting too far into the future. Hope in the dark is critical.
But so is turning towards the sadness even a little: yes, I see you; yes, this is sad; and even yes – we are sad together. We are losing things.
I am thankful we have the internet. And also: *scroll, scroll, oh god there are 13,000 cases in the US now also the world is ending that one article says LOOK A KITTEN wait the world is still ending stocks in free fall WAIT SOME GOP RICH PPL SOLD THEIR STOCK bc the world is an unjust terrible place WAIT AN OTTER*
The internet and virtual meetings, in other words, help – I am grateful for them. But they are not a replacement, and it is ok to mourn this loss.
The absence of people both present and future, I mean – that loss. The acceleration of fear. I walked with a good friend last week, and we were both so heightened by what is happening that we ended up yelling at each other a bit. I can’t say how it felt for her – from my end, like my molecules had been shaken beyond their capacity to want to stay put, to keep on knitting me together. They were kind of like, lololol BYEEEEE!!!!! We hugged it out, at the end. The next time I see her, we will not embrace, and that is a loss. I do not have to say – but we will embrace again, eventually. I hope that is true. And yet, it is enough, for now, to say – this is a loss.
What I want to say, I guess, is that it is ok for us to grieve. To be sad. I have talked to friends who feel like crying – or their kids do – and the kids, especially, don’t know why. I don’t know precisely why either, except I also do. We are all in the process of losing something monumental and intangible. Not just our sense of togetherness – though we are all working to mitigate that. But also our sense of (at least for me, a Privileged White Lady) collective safety. The idea that no matter how bad things got, they wouldn’t really be that bad. That the pandemics and disasters were the things of actual nightmares and action movies, not waking reality.
I feel sad, today, truly and deeply sad. I want to invite you all to share that with me, if you feel sad too – we can sit this one together. Anxiety also counts, if you’re that more than sad. Let’s sit with the pain we have, so that when we do get up tomorrow, it won’t be gone, but it will have been acknowledged.
I do believe (most of the time) that we will be ok. I do believe this is going to be very difficult and that it already is. I also believe that we can support each other with compassion, and that this compassion extends to include: yes. This is hard. We don’t have to pretend it isn’t. We don’t even have to say – but.
For if there were ever a time to stop with the buts, it is now. If someone says to you: I am sad. My invitation to us all is to say: I know. It sucks. Or: I am sad too. This is so hard. Doing so does not make us weak, does not make us complainers or even compliant to the horror of the reality we now face, does not mean we do not have that (to me) worst of nouns: grit. It means that we have the ability to turn towards the feeling and keep going anyway, even if we stop and sit with it for a little while.
(To my students: second use of italics in one post. No, you are still not allowed to use them. 🙂 )
Please, let’s give each other space for this. Let’s stand with each other facing this sad thing, this overwhelming thing. Let’s metaphorically join hands. Let’s say. This sucks. And we are all in it together.