Before and After: Perspective in a Time of Uncertainty
There are moments in your life where there’s a clear delineation between before and after. Often these are milestones like graduating from high school or college, meeting your spouse, moving to a new town. But then there are the unexpected events. There was life before I found out my father had stage 4 cancer, and life after. There was the day I found out I was expecting my first child, and every day after knowing that my life would never be the same.
In many ways our society is in a before and after phase right now. My birthday was two days before we all started sheltering in place in the US, and while I’m just a month older, it feels like a lifetime ago. These past weeks have felt surreal and yet all too real, a blur of video conference schooling and work meetings, cooking and cleaning, and physical distancing.
Imagine at Thanksgiving dinner in 2019 someone told you that within six months the world would go into lockdown, schools would close, and we would shut down much of society as we knew it because of a novel virus that spread throughout the world. You would have laughed it off because it would feel like a movie plot from the 90s.
Now we live in the after, where we hunker down with our families to keep each other safe.
Imagine at Christmas in 2019 as you opened presents someone said that in 2020 there would be the highest unemployment rate since the
Great Depression, and we would no longer be able to go to church and colleges would be ghost towns. You would have wondered what on earth they were talking about.
Now we go to church and school online, connected but distant from one another.
Imagine on New Year’s Eve someone foresaw a future where countries closed their borders to each other and air travel would largely cease, where hospitals are overrun and people would be buying out all of the toilet paper, Purell, and Clorox wipes like it was the end of the world.
Now we go to Facebook to find someone with flour and yeast, and we share what we have with neighbors.
The New Normal
We are now in a new world; one that would have been unrecognizable just three months ago. Changes like this can negatively affect our emotional and mental wellbeing. But rather than trying to power through it, give yourself space to process what has happened, and allow yourself time to mourn what was and to see the future as it will be.
- Allow yourself to mourn what’s been lost. We lived in a safe world where for over a hundred years no virus changed our society like this. We never had to close our borders, our schools, our restaurants, and our churches to keep people safe. We have been fortunate to not have faced this in our lifetimes, and it’s okay to be anxious about what is coming ahead. We are entering a time of unprecedented challenges for both our public health and our economy. Giving yourself time to process that is part of the grieving process.
- See how the world has come together. I have seen the incredible generosity of people to protect not just themselves but one another. Many people who are sheltering in place are doing it for the collective good, knowing that it may or may not help them, but that it will help many others. Like vaccines, every little bit we do to physically distance from one another counts. There was a nurse in my neighborhood that asked in our Palo Alto Moms Facebook Group for calf-high rain boots to protect them in hospitals from bringing the virus home, and dozens were donated. Home warriors are sewing masks for those on the frontline. People are setting up virtual birthday parties and tributes in lieu of parties.
- Imagine the alternative. Imagine if no one physically distanced, and the virus ran wild in our communities. While many cases are mild, it could devastate those who are vulnerable among us, including my father-in-law, a transplant recipient, and my mother who is facing a cancer recurrence. We are doing voluntary isolation to protect one another and ourselves. Frontline workers are going in every day to keep our country running; we owe them to reduce transmissions as well.
- This too will pass. We will get to the other side. Look at China, Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore. They contained the virus with massive testing, tracing, and are slowly opening up again. It was painful and difficult, but they showed that it’s possible to see the other side. We don’t know how long this will last, but we have seen the other side of SARS, MERS, and the Spanish Flu. We will see the other side of this as well. The economic cost will be great, but the human cost could be much worse. We can fix an economy, but we cannot bring back hundreds of thousands of those who we could lose to this.
Humanity is adaptable, and that is what makes us strong. We are learning every day to grow as a community and as a society, and these lessons are hard fought. We have a choice of sticking together or splitting apart during this time. I choose to believe we will get through this together, and this collective experience will make us stronger. Through this situation we have learned just how interconnected we really are. One action such as an innocent traveler flying from a birthday party in Connecticut to South Africa had a ripple effect across thousands of people, and those thousands multiplied to tens of thousands.
A virus knows no national boundary, political affiliation, or a sense of rich or poor. Viruses hijack our cells and turn them into factories in a fight for survival and then spread. They don’t coordinate their attacks, nor do they stop at city limits or entry points.
We are one world, fighting a microscopic virus that is changing our everyday. But it doesn’t have to win. Each day, each person, each community that practices physical distancing are warriors that keep those of us most vulnerable safe. The past was our before, and from here on out, this is our after. Learning to see this after as a foundation on which we rebuild takes us from a place of mourning to one of looking ahead. We will get through this and be stronger for it. But only if we do it together.