Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: I choose to learn from this time

It’s raining and I imagine the water washing away the fear. The squirrels running in my yard don’t care about rain or coronavirus. They flit up and down trees, twitching their tails, digging furiously into the ground, scratching themselves, then staring into space and scratching again. 
The wind, our sometimes friend, blows as sonorously as before. Going out of doors, leaving the sanctity of my own familiar germs, this is an allowable reason to leave home. As is the desire for company even though physical distancing is essential.
In the back of my mind, a worry mantra: stay healthy stay healthy don’t break down.
Though the magnitude of these feelings has shifted, they are familiar anxieties, and I am confident that they are not mine alone. Even before the pandemic, so many of us were panicky about our jobs, our health, or the jobs and health of the people we care about. So many have lived on the edge for so long. The rapidity with which people became under- or unemployed signals the fragile circumstances that too many live in. Despite this, however, there was always hope, an understanding that things would get better if we just worked harder.
Life has changed. A tiny virus has left us naked, stripped of the cloak of invincibility that humans wear with such carelessness. This pandemic has challenged our faith that a better future is assured, if we just try harder. Uncertainty and fear limit our mobility, keep us at home. We can take nothing for granted. That is both a curse and a blessing.
I was talking with a student one day, who shared that her writing had recently focused on hopelessness. She seemed to think that was a bad thing. I don’t. After all, how do we value hope if we have never felt hopeless? 
Our fear of death and disease inevitably will yield to our needs as social animals. How do we learn to appreciate this physical distancing that helps to ameliorate illness and death, that challenges our emotional health? Will we come to appreciate each other more?
This pandemic has brought into sharp relief that life is more than fear. Some nights I sit outside and just listen to the earth, which is always breathing, which will continue to breathe, whether humans are on it or not. The daffodils will continue to show their yellow heads amidst winter- dried leaves and fallen branches. The phoebes will flit underneath the deck, pecking and eating, or steadily rebuilding their nest over the backyard light, like they do every year. Like the squirrels, they are not worried about the virus.
Even if they were, they would still need to live, love, and touch, just as we do. What will we have taken away from this crisis? What will we have learned that will make us more human and more accepting of how connected we are to each other, this earth and all that live here?
I look outside as evening gathers around the trees. They sway in the singing wind. They would sway even if I weren’t looking. That is a humbling and freeing thought. The world goes on, with or without me. Squirrels will flit and scratch, grass will grow, the sun will shine. I am blessed to be in this place at this moment. As I contemplate this, I am reminded that I have never had any control over what happens in the world, only my reactions. I choose to learn from this.

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