How to Deal with Coronavirus Angst
As I write, COVID-19 has caused over 110,000 deaths in the United States and over 400,000 worldwide. Most of those people who have died were old or poor or had medical conditions.
In my county, the number of positive cases has reached an all-time high. The number of new cases each day keeps making records. And yet, many people around here hang out with their friends, go to restaurants, skip the mask, and don’t practice social distancing. They take fewer precautions while the spread gets worse.
I have heard a lot of people say: it’s not as big a deal as the media make it out to be. When I bring up that over 100,000 people have died in the United States alone, they don’t have a response. I feel like what they are really saying is this: “I’m not old. I don’t have diabetes or an autoimmune disorder. I have very little chance of dying. It’s not a big deal for me.”
Our country’s response to the virus has shattered my point of view of Americans. I knew we were imperfect and oftentimes expressed ignorance, but I figured we at least cared about one another. I believed we were divided politically, but I figured we can unite when something horrible comes along, like the tragedy we experienced on 9/11. Yet our whole perception about this virus changes based on our political point of view. A virus has been politicized. What a downer.
I feel a sense of animosity that I have not ever felt before in my life. We could be doing simple things like wearing masks and social distancing without actually collapsing the economy, and yet we choose not to. Where is our sense of compassion for the vulnerable? What about Jesus saying, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”? What about decency?
I have been stuck in middle age for quite some time now. I have not lived a long time, but neither am I new to the earth. I have experienced meanspiritedness and betrayal. I have also known that I too can act mean-spirited and cruel at times.
I read the daily news and history. I know about the incredibly inhumane ways we can act toward each other. I recently read about the Soviet occupation of Germany at the end of World War II and the mass rapes and murders that took place. I know that in parts of the world, such cruelty continues to take place.
I am not naive nor innocent.
Somehow, despite my knowledge and experiences, I have always held out a belief in the good of people. I could explain away things like cruelty in the circumstances of war and poverty. I could let go of the mean people and the betrayals and believe that despite a few bad apples, most people care about one another.
However, for some reason, in this day and age, my faith in the goodness of people has been challenged.
Perhaps it’s because people are sticking to their political belief and their party rather than listening to the facts that could save lives. Perhaps it’s because of the irrationality of taking fewer precautions while the risk increases. Perhaps it’s because people say it’s not a big deal when thousands of people are dead or dying. Perhaps it’s because I believe that people’s attitudes would completely change if the disease were more indiscriminate about whom it kills. Perhaps it’s because I’m becoming more cynical in my older age.
Or perhaps it’s because of my dad. My dad is in his late 70’s and if he caught this virus, he could die. My dad was going to visit us in April, but that visit has been postponed indefinitely. I don’t know when — or if — I’m going to see my dad again. It breaks my heart.
Or perhaps it’s because my mom passed away a few years ago from cancer. I will never see her again, and it breaks my heart. I’m not ready for more death in my life.
And yet death is all around. We just don’t choose to look at it.
Here’s What I Know
It’s easy to get cynical about the world. We are born innocent and vulnerable. If we survive, we will get knocked around a lot and experience great suffering, some more than others. In the end, everyone dies. In the middle, we try to make the best lives for ourselves, and some of us succeed better than others. Most of us at the end will feel like things could have been better. We could have had more money, more freedom, more justice, more sex, more love, more friends, more experiences, more respect. It’s as if life were one big FOMO.
And yet, it’s all we’ve got. We don’t know what happens when we die, so we often assume that this is it, and being alive is better than being dead. So we suffer the pain, the cruelty, the loss, and the outrage. We “bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.”
And that’s what I know. Life is imperfect, but it’s all we’ve got.
And so we realize that life can suck, but we don’t want the alternative. In times of our deepest woes and cynicism, we must find a place to make the world tolerable again. My faith in humanity may be at stake, but I must remember these things:
- My wife bought me some 80’s-style swim trunks yesterday, and it made me laugh. I love her.
- My dog looks like a baby when he’s sleeping.
- The sun shines today and the air smells fresh. I may hike and smell the pine trees.
- The past is over and can’t hurt me unless I think about it. Now is the only time that exists.
- Right now, I’m alive and the earth spins and a squirrel gathers food and a new life has entered the world in the form of a sapling or a child.
- I can embrace reality and choose happiness and love if I want to.
- We can lick our wounds, muscles regrow stronger, and I can share the wisdom of middle age with the world.
- Someone might start wearing a mask in public because of what I wrote today.
- There are things to hold onto and give us hope.
Make a list of good things. Stay safe. Stay in hope. And love a little more today.