Three years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down. I vividly remember the phone call from my employer announcing the cancellation of all classes and activities. It was one of those kind of earth shattering moments that etches its way into your mind. In an instant, my income was stripped away, and like many others, I found myself in a frightening situation, wondering how I would manage.
I did a lot of walking during this time, trying to stay active and find peace. This became more and more challenging as new closings of parks, beaches and trails were announced. Sadly, even these places, where people often find peace and wellbeing, were closed off. We were shutting down nature and it felt like the world had gone mad.
And while officials acted to prioritize our “safety” I believe they were viewing the situation through a narrow lens and missing the big picture. The ramifications of confining individuals to their homes, depriving them of fresh air and nature, banning social interaction, and destabilizing their income, all while selling them fear 24/7 are now being felt. We are living with mass homelessness, food and supply shortages, crazy inflation, large corporations flourishing while small businesses fail, and increased mental and physical health issues. The pandemic also robbed us of opportunities to create cherished memories with friends and family and even denied some, those last precious moments with their loved ones, who died alone or with strangers instead of in the company of those who loved them.
The pandemic greatly exacerbated the culture of fear and divisiveness which can be witnessed in things like school meetings that erupt over issues of vaccinations, mask-wearing, remote education, and social distancing and in the widening gap between those who offer to willingly trade freedom for safety and the opposing group that views freedom as paramount. Whether protection is sought by wearing a mask on the face, stockpiling supplies, or carrying a gun – the message is the same, we are afraid.
We now live in a world where censorship, book banning, social media post removal and deactivation of accounts have become accepted means of suppressing information that goes against what is touted as the "truth". Groups that fought for sovereignty over our bodies and the right to refuse treatments and vaccines now advocate against the reproductive rights of women, while the opposing groups are in direct disagreement. Polarization is at an all time high while tolerance is vanishing.
And what of the children, who lost the benefits of childhood social interaction and missed out on group activities and milestone events such as proms and graduations. Some were trapped in homes where abuse was prevalent, and others were subjected to neglect and lack of adequate food and nutrition. The learning gap between those children who had access to needed equipment, services and support and those that didn’t widened. And as we know, children are shaped by their environment, and many continue to feel the myriad effects of living with adults who were experiencing extreme stress. We are now seeing the prevalence of suicide and mental illness amongst our youth reaching an all-time high.
As I write I realize what began as a short note in a group email grew into much more. I think realizing it was the three year anniversary came with a need for introspection, examination and healing. While I was fortunate to reap some benefits from the pandemic, I, like others also suffered losses such as: my sense of security, my feeling of solidity, my trust in people and in society, long-time friendships, and some of my dreams. I’ve become less patient and quicker to anger. I find it more challenging to make plans for the future, I experience moments of profound sadness, and it is harder to allow myself to be vulnerable and instead opt for protection mode.
But it is the challenging times that uncover the places in which we are stuck and need to grow. And on the upside, the pandemic gave me a longed-for sanctuary and creative space, and the time to pursue new endeavors and learn new skills. Additionally, I gained confidence and developed more courage and independence. And I was fortunate to be the beneficiary of many acts of generosity and kindness that rekindle my spirit just by remembering them.
It’s a wild, exciting, terrifying time to be alive. We are witnessing the collapse of old antiquated systems that weren’t built to serve us equally and justly, all while experiencing the great power of our planet which is changing landscapes and lives. We are in the discomfort of chaos, it all looks and feels out of control, but what if on the other side is a new way of being, a rebirth so grand that it is beyond the ability of our five senses to conceive.