Dear Readers: This piece was written at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown here in Ontario, Canada. For a view a few months later, we recommend you also read our followup piece: COVID's Silver Lining, written as the first phase of lockdown was lifting.
If you’re like me, your inbox has been filling up with messages and newsletters about the current global situation. An ever-steady torrent of updates on what the situation is around the world: what you can do, what I can do, what we all can do to help with the pandemic that is enveloping our lives.
For most of us, the best thing we can do is to stay home, and to limit in-person contact with others. Our lives are being disrupted. We’re tasked with absorbing thousands of small changes to our daily routines and lives, while faced with an invisible threat.
And physical distancing makes it harder for us to come together as a community in a time of crisis and to show compassion to one another in the ways we’re familiar with.
Here’s our attempt to help bridge that gap.
While there’s no way I can know how you’re feeling, for a brief moment, I’d like to give you permission to feel—whatever it is that you’re feeling in response to this pandemic—by sharing how I’m feeling.
And right now, I am feeling a lot of things.
A few weeks ago, Canada started shutting everything down. We've now closed our borders to overseas destinations, and we've even limited travel from our American friends to essential travel only. Schools and restaurants are closed across the country. The worst could potentially still be avoided here. And we're trying to do what we can to lock down early and to avoid following the trajectories of the hard hit regions. We're entering lockdown mode, but we're in a weird purgatory-like state.
We’re stuck in the in-between, waiting.
In these moments, I feel an under-current of anxiety, a sense of not being able to do enough, and yet, frustration at having already done all that I can think of. I feel a fear of what awaits, and a real sense of vulnerability at being at the mercy of others.
When I pause, I realize, I have been here before. I have had these moments of waiting, where I’ve done everything I can, and am trusting others to do what they can.
In 2011, I was sitting on a bench on Davie street in Vancouver, feeling eerily similar. The next day, both of my parents were about to undergo surgery. My dad needed a life-saving kidney transplant. Miraculously, my mom was a perfect match, so the next day mom was going to donate her kidney to dad. If anything went wrong, we were at risk of losing not one parent, but both of them at the same time. If everything went as planned, we’d have two happy, healthy parents back in our lives. Each with one good kidney.
I took a moment, and let myself feel what I was actually feeling. The fear of what could go wrong. The hope that things would get better. The vulnerability of being at the mercy of what happened in that operating room and the hands of the surgeon. The concern for how my three younger sisters would handle it all. The sadness and grief for the loss that we’d already experienced with my dad’s deteriorating health. I felt stuck in the in-between, waiting.
As I sat there, I realized that the most important thing I could do was to be present for my family, for my sisters, for my parents, and for their friends. I could share my story with them, and I could listen to theirs. I could admit, acknowledge, and embrace the fear, anxiety, worry and vulnerability I felt, and help it feel OK for them to share their stories with me. I could have hope and optimism that no matter what happened, we were going to face this together. I could find peace in comfort in our shared togetherness and faith. I was not alone.
Thankfully, things turned out well for my parents and our family. Everyone is healthy. We were able to weather our circumstances together.
Today, I want to encourage you, wherever you’re at in the story of this pandemic, to do the same. You are not alone, even in your physical (not social!) distancing situation.
I want to encourage you to share your stories and to give those around you the grace and permission to do the same. To pass on feelings in addition to facts. To share small moments of kindness and grace with each other. To embrace the common humanity of this shared experience. We are all in this together.