Blog: Life in the Time of COVID-19
By Laura Chandler
I’m fired up! I just read the most myopic “opinion” piece on a well-respected news site and it has me boiling. Not only is the news site prominent, the positioning of this opinion piece was, too. I like opinion pieces. I often learn things when I read them. However, after reading this, I was left feeling irritated and wondering how anyone could find this opinion useful. I am not going to cite the article here, simply because I feel when people behave in this way, they are pretty clueless that they are behaving badly, and I don’t want to bash anyone. What I would like to do is point out the significance of focusing on what is important and what we all have to learn. This isn’t going away anytime soon, and we need to develop some tools for coping if we haven’t already.
The gist of the article was about being in quarantine for two weeks in China and then, after being released from quarantine, what life is like. The writer of the article is an American who lives and works about 500 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Upon release from quarantine and being COVID clear, this person was excited to go to the store and buy her favorite foods. Then she was woefully disappointed that the stores were out of her favorite things and that she had to settle on items she didn’t like, such as salted butter & sweetened yogurt. She also complained about not getting her favorite Starbucks coffee, because they only offer takeout and her drink would be cold before she got it home, and she lamented not being able to drink it outside, because outside seating had been dismantled. Does she not have a stovetop or microwave at home?
Further, she complained that her delivery pizza was cold by the time she could get it into her building (due to COVID protections that are in place in her building), and that it’s difficult having to carry the bottled water she has delivered up the stairs to her apartment. The delivery person usually did that for her pre-pandemic. And the article just goes on like that. There were no insights, helpful observations, nothing. The article was simply a platform for her to complain and then leave an impotent sentiment at the end about how she mourns that the virus has made its way to the US. And before I make this blog piece my own myopic platform for complaint, I want to say that this is just not where we need to be focused.
I’ve been sheltering-in-place, staying at home here in San Francisco, since the order was announced on March 16, and it has now been extended through May 3. We’re not whining here in the Bay Area; we are flattening the curve, baby! And that’s the point. If the only hardship we endure is some boredom (though I’m not bored) and the absence of some of our preferred foodstuffs (though I haven’t experienced that too much either), then we’ve got what is known in the vernacular as a “high-class problem” in the face of this pandemic.
Or, more to the point, we have a First World problem. There are people who go without food, shelter, water, and decent medical care on a daily basis, and that’s its own kind of pandemic, without the added stressor of something like COVID-19. This state of being never ends for them. Right now in the United States there are already millions out of work, and that’s going to double here in the coming months. We have healthcare workers and retail employees in essential businesses on the front lines providing us care and necessities while putting themselves and their families at risk. We need to focus on what is important. We need to be thinking about how to help people, not how inconvenienced we are by the whole mess.
In the San Francisco Bay Area we have met and continue to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the necessary inconveniences it brings. The shelter-in-place orders, issued by 7 counties on March 16 (now it is a state-wide order), have essentially prevented San Francisco and the state of California from being in the same situation as New York and Italy. As of this writing, New York has over 83,000 cases and approximately 1,900 deaths – whereas, California has only 2,200 cases and 59 deaths. This is directly due to our nearly immediate response with social distancing and shelter-in-place rules.
Radical social distancing, staying at home except for the most necessary reasons, is essential to flattening the curve and slowing the spread of this disease. It requires cooperation and a little bit of selflessness. I think of it as a team effort. Everyone needs to do their part without complaint or blame or getting negative. I know it’s easy to cast blame and mask our sense of powerlessness with anger, but that doesn’t help. There will be plenty of time to analyze what was done right and wrong, but now is not that time. It is the time to pull together, do our part, find ways of encouraging each other, and take corrective actions where we can.
I think the thing that set me off about the opinion piece was its lack of perspective on the larger situation. I read it because I thought I was going to learn something about how things are in China now, and that interests me, because they are a month or two ahead of us in the COVID experience. What I got appears to be someone who has not experienced much hardship in her life, even in the face of this pandemic, and so her perspective was skewed. I’m happy for her that she is not experiencing serious hardship at this moment, but there are people who are. More and more people will be effected directly or indirectly in the coming months.
My reaction to the article reminds me to manage my own responses, and certainly writing this piece has helped me to process it and turn my initial reaction into a reflection on what might be helpful for me and maybe for others. I know that as I sit at home in what is essentially a California quarantine, my focus is what it always is: How do I maintain a positive disposition? How do I take care of my needs and still be able to show up for others who are in need? I ask questions like, “What can I do to make things better?”, rather than getting stuck cycling on what is wrong. I find that meditation is helpful in achieving a broader and more positive perspective. Also, cutting out excess media, unnecessary screen time, and choosing more heartwarming or inspiring programs to watch, rather than violent or apocalyptic ones, can be helpful too.
Ultimately, our perspective is a choice. Even in the darkest moments, we have the ability to take those lemons life tosses us and make them into proverbial lemonade. My view isn’t Pollyannaish, it is realistic. It’s understanding that the only thing we can control is ourselves to the extent that we can choose how we respond to things. So, I could rant to my partner about this terrible article I read today and ruin our breakfast lamenting the state of the world, or I can focus on how to maintain a positive disposition even when I’m challenged. And, as I write this, I realize the article wasn’t exactly terrible, it just presented ideas that I don’t share, like cold pizza being a bad thing, when I’m sure it is one of life’s delicacies. As we all navigate these challenging times together, may your pizza be hot (or cold, if you prefer), and may you find inspiration in new and unexpected places.
Editors’ Note: Writer and teacher Laura Chandler is the Executive Director of the Foundation of the Sacred Stream and the host of the Sacred Stream Radio Podcast. She is currently appearing with the Sacred Stream’s Founding Director, author, and teacher, Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D., on a Facebook Live series. The intention of this series is to help people stay steady during these times. You can participate in this community forum, and share your thoughts, insights, and questions on Thursday, April 2, at 2:00 pm PST (5:00 pm EST) and Monday, April 6, at 2:00 pm PST (5:00 pm EST). Visit Sacred Stream’s Facebook page at the designated times to join in.