The other day I awoke with a brilliant idea. I would arrive at Trader Joe’s when it opened and find newly stocked cans of fish protein on the shelves that were bare the afternoon before. Maybe there’d even be hand sanitizer that had come in during the night. I’m pretty sure had it been there, my first thought wouldn’t have been to share. Thank God I could laugh at myself when I got to the parking lot and it was busier than the day before Thanksgiving. Who was I to think I had an idea that hadn’t occurred to anyone else?
Waiting in the serpentine ‘quick’ check-out line, I struck up a conversation with the man in back of me. We agreed that personal connection is what’s helping us in present times—more of a boost to our immune systems than all the flu remedies long gone from the shelves. A friend put it more succinctly: the crazy I get if I isolate is more deadly than any flu. I remembered to thank the checker for coming in to work and got a surprised-but-pleased smile back.
Nineteen years ago on 9/11 I lay in bed terrified, sure that the planes I thought I heard in the dark were attacking us. Several times over subsequent years, I’ve startled awake to rumbling from deep in the earth and a shaking bed. Each time I’ve convinced myself the next morning that things are back to normal because everything around me looked the same.
Not this time. This time shelves are empty, schools are closed, we’ve become a community of people peering at one another from 6 feet away over thick, white masks. This time it affects all of us. We have to cooperate if we’re to survive. We’ve known for a long time that viral outbreaks will become more frequent and widespread. If a flu doesn’t get us, climate change will. This time we are being forced to confront not only our own vulnerability, but that of the whole planet. At least I am.
When I heard that 15 percent of people over 65 are likely to die from the virus, I felt relieved! My mind had been focused on how to get hand sanitizer, what herbs would boost my immunity and would I be the first in line at Trader Joe’s. But if I’m going to die—and at 73 that’s coming sooner rather than later—the more important question is: How do I want my living to be?
I don’t want to go back to sleep this time. I want to practice the values of kindness and connection, especially when those qualities seem puny in relation to the scale of the threat confronting us. I know what makes living not only bearable but worthwhile, and it is my choice moment to moment whether I act accordingly.