Photo by Sydney Sinks
I’ve become an expert on avoidance. When a death toll flashes across my phone screen, I skim the number and then shove away the fear that it induces. 20,000…3,000 in one Thursday…55,000 across the U.S. Shocked, I marvel at these numbers and then turn off my phone.
My friend sends me another impossibly sad news story, and I get impatient with the world. There are enough terrible things happening. Sad and accusatory, I remind the universe that we’ve reached our quota. Can’t we get some good news?
Speaking of which, reading the news has become one of my least favorite things. There are constant updates, reports of protests and quotes from politicians that make me cringe. We are lucky to live in the age of information with news so readily available for us to consume. But that also means that we can never really get away from the constant tragedy and fear.
Since this started, I’ve been trying to straddle the line between staying informed and staying sane. Keeping up with the latest updates and knowing what the recommendations are – that’s good. Obsessively reading through news reports – that’s bad.
It’s not irresponsible to put down your phone and take time for yourself, and it’s okay if you don’t know every last detail of the latest press conference. It’s a necessary balancing act.
My friends and I talk a lot, but we have a rule against spending too much time talking about the pandemic. We try not to speculate about when it’ll be over or what next year is going to look like or when we’ll see each other again, because the truth is that we don’t know. It’s a strange feeling to have legitimately no idea what’s going to come next.
When you have that feeling, a lot of the things that were all-consuming before become unimportant.
In fact, it’s pushed me to reassess a lot. What really matters to me, and what have I just been distracting myself with? What did I agree to do because I wanted to do it, and what did I take on because I felt obligated? Who do I want to surround myself with when this is over?
We’re seeing how fragile life is, how quickly things can undergo irreversible change. I can suddenly feel a fire under me. I can hear a voice saying, “Okay, this is it, this is all you have. It can be taken away so fast. What are you going to do with it?”
If nothing else, being forced to slow down has given me a lot to think about. I hope that I come out of this with a better understanding of who I am and the kind of life that I want to lead.
And in the meantime, I do homework and talk with my friends and try not to lose my mind over the news. Self-reflection, new projects, and more time with family are really nice. But there are very real and very terrible things happening in the world right now.
I realize that we can avoid that sometimes – in fact, sometimes we have to for our own health. But it’s still important to recognize that these things are happening and to do what we can to help.
But in all of the bad, there are still some glimpses of good. There are moments of hope. Isolation pushes us to connect with one another in weird ways.
In my hometown, people have propped stuffed animals against their window frames so that kids can do “teddy bear hunts” during lockdown. I pass a house with signs in the front yard encouraging me to honk for the senior student who lives there. Windows are plastered with colorful paper hearts in support of healthcare workers.
These are tiny glimpses of people doing what they can to make others smile. We are isolated, but we’re still finding ways to connect and support one another. With more bad news every day, it’s amazing to be reminded of our humanity and capacity for kindness.
I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for quiet beauty. I love the spring flowers and parts of my town that I just drove by before. These things make me so weirdly happy.
Sometimes, I’m surprised by what I find touching. I’m moved by strange things. During a walk, I saw that the sidewalk was covered in chalk drawings, flowers and ice cream cones and a scribbled “It’ll be okay!” message signed “John” with a backward N. I smiled, kept walking, and realized that I’m teary-eyed.
Take care of yourself and turn off the news if you have to. Find ways to reflect and connect with others. Let the moments of kindness buoy you. We don’t know what will happen next, but I hope that some of the things we learn during this time will stick with us in a positive way.