“When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms,
don’t say to yourself, ‘It looks like the end of the world.’ What you’re seeing is love in action.
What you’re seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other…
Let it fill you and sustain you. It isn’t the end of the world.
It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness.”
from the Belfast Corona Virus network, Feb. 2020
People like events. Events occur with a beginning/middle/end. We like a good story, or a sporting contest (who won—and we know the score), or a family reunion when all our relatives leave on Tuesday and we can “put things back to rights,” as my mother used to say.
When the Covid-19 Pandemic started, it was articulated as an event, a huge global occurrence playing out on the world stage. It felt like we were all living in a disaster movie, complete with spooky music and escalated voices on the news. The virus was a sneaky monster, microscopically unreal, but lurking everywhere. We watched in astonishment as the modern world came to a sudden halt. Lots of real-life drama was generated in Act One watching healthcare systems near to collapsing under the load of need, and heartfelt relief was provided by stories and gestures of kindness and support.
But now, in its second year of ongoing disruption, the pandemic is not behaving properly. The plot is very unclear, unmanageable subplots are bobbing like container ships at the edges of ports. The story needs serious editing. It seems stuck in what my editor refers to as “the muddle of the middle.” Well, if we are even in the middle. And in the early summer of 2021, just when the vaccinated were dashing toward the exits and a promised return to normalcy, Delta variant cancelled Intermission. Anti-vaxxers cancelled civility. Misinformation cancelled confidence. We don’t know where we are or how to live our ways forward. And now, Omicron (OMG) brings on another winter of uncertainty. The muddle indeed!
Oh, a new reality is dawning. The pandemic is not an event: the pandemic is a shift.
A shift is a much harder experience. We don’t know how long it is, how big it is, or what consequences it enforces. We don’t know if it actually ever comes to resolution in which the protagonists have triumphed, good has won the day, the dust-up of drama has settled, and we can finish our popcorn and eye the satisfying announcement, THE END… In a shift, is the end just THE BEGINNING? And beginning of what? And what just ended? And who am I in the muddle of this? How can I make story and meaning when everything keeps changing? And what happened to the camaraderie when we were cheering for team humanity?
I want opera on the balconies again and clanging pans for nurses, and poetry about togetherness, and thoughtful pieces about how this might change our lives for the better. I want to believe that beautiful declaration of the Belfast Corona Virus Network, “It isn’t the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness.”
Yes, and it is the end of the world: the world of putting off facing our accumulating crises, of luxuriating in our fantasies that some other generation and some other time will require sacrifices but we can keep driving our cars, shopping at Costco, and sustaining economies reliant on citizen over-consumption.
Shift is admitting we are standing at the edge of forces in Nature and human nature we have never lived through before. The pandemic is the messenger–along with social erosion and violence, floods and firestorms, tornadoes for Christmas, and governments that barely function on the standard of “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We are living inside a contagion of social variants and the longer we fling our attention from one false flag to another, the more these variants multiply and the more serious the threats become.
Shift asks us to live by our moral compass and help one another remember our best selves. In spite of the the news and dire predictions, I believe most people can access shared human values of preservation and altruism, love for children, empathy for each other’s challenges, compassion for suffering, desire for balance. All of us wake in the morning trying to orient ourselves and figure out how we’re going to get through the day in a world that won’t stop wobbling. Take a breath. Stretch. Ask for guidance: listen. Write it down. Make a bit of story to step into the day. Tell someone how you are; listen to how they are.
There is no predictable path: we are making the path we predict.
The outcome is not decided.
We are deciding.
The first part of this blog is an edited version from the foreword I wrote for The Story Circle Network’s 2021 anthology series, Real Women Write. This volume is titled: Beyond Covid: Leaning into Tomorrow, edited by Susan Schoch, the book contains prose and poetry by over 50 women reflecting on their personal journeys through Covid times. It was an honor to provide the foreword, and with Susan’s permission to include some of it here and spread word of the book.