Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: After COVID-19, will we be wiser?

I would love to say I live in the moment, present and awake, but that’s not always true. I think about the future almost constantly. My goals, though they may be ever-changing, are a fixture in my psyche. When I hike a mountain I enjoy the trail, the details of moss and chaga, but the thought of the summit is what pulls me forward and upward. 
As people we are trained and socialized to have goals, to work, be productive and forward thinking. We are often defined by these things, which are related to but very much outside of ourselves, like our jobs, what we are studying or what we aspire to be. 
Thinking about and planning for the future becomes difficult when we just don’t know what will happen. 
The effects of COVID-19 around the globe and in our community cannot be underestimated. We are undeniably in a time of environmental reckoning, forced to examine our relationship to nature and our responsibility to one another, all the while witnessing our government’s continuous failure to serve people. 
The pandemic is a threat to all, especially the elderly, immunocompromised, homeless, those quarantined with abusive partners, those losing their vital income, the list goes on. While recognizing how lucky we are to live rurally, in a place where we can still go outside, get exercise and fresh air, we cannot overlook and therefore erase the fear, loss and uncertainty that is occurring here. 
No one will be left untouched, from the elderly who are at risk to the schoolchildren whose learning to read will be pushed back, to my fellow eighteen-year olds who did not imagine this would be the world our legal adulthood catapulted us into. I cannot continue this piece without honoring the severity of what is at hand. 
But consider what would be happening if COVID-19 never crossed over into humans, and life was still “normal.” We would still be careening towards climate catastrophe, failing to recognize the rights of nature, and our dependency on the earth’s health for our collective survival. We would still be living in a country continuously violating treaties with First Nations, treating immigrants of color as less than human, and entering an election year where two men both accused of sexual assault vie to run the United States of America. That is the normal that this pandemic entered into. That is the future my generation is inheriting, whether we accept or vow to change it.
We may see what is happening as an interruption to our careers, our educations, our aspirations, our lives. But the future was never a given. All that exists is now, so perhaps in this moment we should lay down our aspirations, our career goals, and our futures. 
It may sound wrong, pointless or like giving up. It goes against all we have been conditioned to do and believe by our capitalist society, which teaches us that productivity is what determines our worth. If it leaves you quite literally wondering, “who am I?” then I’m with you. This time, in all its tragedy, fear and loss, creates a moment in which we can be free of capitalistic pressure. We are shedding our definitions and it feels scary. 
When I set aside my major, my resumé, my career and my aspirations, I am setting aside my future self, and there is sensation, like a space has been left empty. In that space, I am free to know a different self, one I have paid far less attention to — the self that is now. 
I trust that our towns and communities will rise to what is perhaps our greatest test yet. I trust that we will protect one another, do our best to support local businesses, check on people by phone, share our chicken eggs and stay away from one another. In a time when socializing means putting others at risk, we will stay safely separate as best we can. 
I trust that we will recognize our interdependence and take seriously our roles as community members, and when we come out of this, we may at least be wiser. 
Leeya Tudek is a nineteen year old South Lincoln local and an undergrad at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She spends her time back in the 802 hiking, dogsledding and swimming in the rivers. She loves to paint and write, and most recently embarked on her first filmmaking journey.

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