As COVID-19 continues to upend life as we knew it, we are all trying to make sense of this “new normal” we are currently living. As I move through the ups and downs of each day, I’ve found it helpful to read or hear how others are managing (or not). I decided to reach out to people to see if they’d be willing to share their perspectives. Pete Smith wrote about the impact on small businesses. (He and his partner own Uncommon Paws in Portland, Maine’s Old Port). Sister Miriam Therese Callnan wrote about the unexpected gift of time. Today’s post is a message of encouragement from my husband Barry.
Well, here we are washing our hands, keeping our distance from others and taking each day as it comes. All we seem to know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure. But is everything a mystery about what we are facing and especially the ways in which we might best respond? Let’s take a closer look to see what might offer a little hope.
It helps, I think, to remind ourselves that as humans it is in our collective natures to face and overcome challenges in order to survive. And I believe that by our reactions this crisis has the potential (and we are already seeing signs of this) to bring out the very best in us. For example, I know that most of us are already thinking not only of ourselves as we “shelter in place”, but also about our families (near and far) and our neighbors. Anyone providing essential services is still hard at work. Thousands of retired health care workers are volunteering to return to work. A (young) neighbor called us to ask who might need groceries delivered. Most of us feel that need to help each other. “How are you doing?” is the way I, and people reaching out to me typically begin a conversation these days. We then engage by sharing whatever bits of good news and other helpful information there happens to be. We even try to find something to laugh about. I consider this to be a critical strategy to help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Such feelings are the normal inevitable results of social distancing. We need to acknowledge and accept that the time of handshakes and hugs is over (or let’s just say “on hold”) for now. And we must learn to rely on digital/virtual interactions and forego those that are face to face that most (all?) of us prefer.
How do we make the best of this “new normal”? It is worth remembering that most forms of human interaction are necessary and valuable. We should not underestimate the impact of those we are less familiar with. We literally have no idea what quarantining ourselves for weeks and months on end will/may be like. There is nothing in any of our lifetimes that informs us. But as far as we know we are unique among the species for our ability to anticipate outcomes and plan accordingly. Think of our ancestors (from the not so distant past) who spent a good part of each summer putting in the winter wood, canning and preserving fruits and vegetables and making sure that the livestock would have feed and shelter. In a blizzard there was no hospital to be whisked away to. You had to rely on your own resourcefulness and if you were lucky, some help from a nearby neighbor. That was the normal then and perhaps not unlike what we must rediscover now.
We are hearing the reassurance “we can get through this” a lot now. To me that is the goal both for today and going forward. And I believe that our attitude about reaching this goal is extremely important. There is plenty of research that demonstrates that having positive attitudes really does play a role in attaining positive outcomes. So allow me to modify the “don’t know anything for sure” concern I began with. What we DO know is that caring about others, being resourceful, gathering and sharing information (from credible sources) and visualizing that inevitable time ahead when things will be better DOES help us to be resilient. A therapist friend of mine tells me that he now tells his (by telephone only) clients, “Please take one day at a time.” Important advice for facing each and every day ahead. Let’s do this.