When the shutdown first started I thought we’d be asked to shelter in place for a few weeks and then it would be over. Being a pandemic virgin I was a little smug about our country’s ability to deal with a crisis of this scale. and take care of its people. We’re the US, surely we’ve got this, right? How naive and incredibly foolish that feels in retrospect. But we’d never experienced Ebola or Zika on a national scale, why would this be any different? What I failed to factor in was the devastating nature of this virus, and the sheer ineptitude and downright cruel ignorance of our federal government.
So with a mix of pluck and naive optimism, I stepped into quarantining determined to not let it get me down. That lasted for about four weeks. The schedule I’d created and to-do list I’d so earnestly adhered to every day began to lay fallow, no check marks noting a job well done, I just didn’t care.
I watched enviously as my social media blew up with people having love affairs with sourdough starter and discovering gardening. I’d never dreamed about sourdough pancakes, I don’t even particularly like pancakes, but they looked yummy. Still, for a good three weeks or so I could not find any real joy. I missed my friends, my family, my life.
As a freelancer, I lost a lot of work, which was scary, but I was lucky, thanks to my also self-employed son, I applied for unemployment and that saved me from some very scary times, not everyone has been so lucky. And now, even that is gone, and we have a government that doesn’t seem to care.
I eventually regained my footing and got back to my daily yoga practice, something I accomplished via Zoom and Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. It’s totally a thing, look it up. My writing group began meeting again via Zoom — quick aside, I had never heard of Zoom before COVID-19 and now it is a lifeline to semi-normalcy, I definitely should have bought stock in it.
This time in isolation isn’t normal. We’re social creatures and need each other. Even the act of wearing masks keeps us from seeing smiles, and reading each other’s’ moods and well being. I know how privileged I have been to have a bit of work I can do from home, to have a home, and food, and a partner with whom I can laugh every day. And is there when I cry too.
This was all so much to deal with and then George Floyd was killed at the hands of the police. We all saw it, and we can’t unsee it. And we shouldn’t.
But what has happened since is nothing short of historic, a term that gets thrown around way too often. But this time it’s true.
What I’ve found myself pondering is why did we all wake up to this man’s death? It’s certainly not the first. Why didn’t the marches and protests take hold after Eric Garner? Tamir Rice? Ahmed Aubrey?
And then I think I figured something out. We weren’t distracted. We couldn’t turn away because we’ve been isolated for over three months. We’ve lost all the tricks and tools we use to numb ourselves to the things we don’t want to see. I think of it like the pollution that cleared from Los Angeles and New Delhi, when we all stopped we could see.
We have been inside with our thoughts and our feelings for all this time, and the smog cleared. Normally we’d turn on a game, head to a bar, stay late at the office. But we can’t do that. We woke up, and it could be the best thing that ever happened to us.
When we’re living our lives at the fast-paced clip most of us do, we’re focused on what’s right in front of us. We see on the news yet another black person has been killed, we feel terrible, and we move on. But when the world has stopped, when there’s no place to go, we have to see what is there, what has sadly been there well, forever, what people like me have been able to move past because it didn’t affect me.
We’ve woken up. Now we have a choice to make. As life slowly begins to return to normal do we go back to pretending to not see what we see, or do we say no, we won’t go back? Being awake is harder. It takes more effort than we are perhaps accustomed to expending. But as I look around at all the people all over the world protesting, I know there is no turning back.
We started off clapping for healthcare workers, and are now marching for our black brothers and sisters. In the beginning, a pandemic and a sweeping cultural movement happening at the same time felt like it would be too much for all of us to handle. We were already stretched to what felt like a breaking point with culture wars over masks and being asked to stay home.
And then George Floyd was killed and people said enough. Not one more. And we woke up. And we know we have to do whatever we have to, most especially, vote, no matter who or what stands in our way.