It’s amazing how quickly we begin to adjust to the ways that our lives are changing. Two weeks ago, I didn’t know what ‘social distancing’ was. Yesterday, I turned to my wife while we were re-watching MasterChef when a contestant hugged the judges and said, “He’s not allowed do that.” The spread of the Coronavirus has changed the way in which we see and experience the world in a profound way. Crisis has a way of doing that. In our fear, panic and anxiety, we tend to turn to impulse. Survival instincts are an incredible resource in a moment of danger, but they can’t be trusted to take us on a prolonged journey through the unknown. For that, we need to choose intention over impulse. For me personally, I’m trying to move away from the question ‘How am I going to get through this?’ to ‘Who am I going to be in this?’ Here are some things I’ve been wrestling with.
Check My Privilege
As much as there are reasons for me to be scared and anxious right now, I am not in an at-risk category. I am not immunocompromised. I am young(ish). This is not a story about me being in danger, so I am trying to choose not to be that character in the story. On Saturday, I was at a pharmacy trying to work out a strategy with them about how we could get prescriptions to people who are at-risk. While I was there, the staff asked me to talk to a woman who was clearly in distress. She’s elderly and lives with her two sisters. One of them had a stroke and the other had a fall and they are both in hospital. She was sacred for them and scared for herself. I gave her my number and told her to call me if she needs groceries or anything else that she can’t get for herself because, in the story we’re living right now, I am the one more likely to get through this unscathed. When I overestimate the risk to myself, I will underestimate the simple impact I can have on others — particularly others who are far more at risk than I am.
Realise Our Interconnectedness
Social media is saturated with pictures and videos of people stockpiling soap and hand sanitiser. Fear makes us forget our dependence on each other. If I’m going to stay safe, I don’t just need to be able to wash my hands. I need you to wash yours. And me buying the soap that you need to do so puts us both at risk. The hundreds of ways in which we have learned to think individualistically have caused us to forget that our lives are interconnected. My choices affect your future and your choices affect mine. I am safer when you are safer. When we get through this, and I believe we will, we won’t look back and marvel on the brilliance of our competitive survival strategies. As the old proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Cry, Laugh, Feel
Yesterday afternoon, I sidled up to my wife and told her I had a confession to make. She asked me what it was and, as much as it went against the grain of the image I project to the world around me, I answered: “I’m scared.” I hate admitting that. I’m afraid that, because my vocation is about supporting people, admitting I’m scared will bring it all tumbling down. She told me it’s ok to be scared and I’m trying to believe her because it’s not my job to carry the weight of the world. Denying my emotions doesn’t serve anyone. But later, when we laughed, I felt I had permission to because I had been honest about my fear. Fear makes us want to hold our breath. My siblings and I used to try and hold our breath as we drove through tunnels on road trips when we were kids. The tunnel we’re in now is a long one and we’re going to need to learn to exhale before we see the light at the end of it. It’s ok to breathe and it’s ok to be honest about how this all feels.
If you need someone to talk to in confidence during this crisis, Scott and the other chaplains are still offering support throughout this challenging time. You can find them at http://www.ucd.ie/chaplaincy/meettheteam/ so feel free to email them to book an online appointment over Skype or Facetime.
Follow Scott on Insta or Twitter: @notscottevans
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Scott Evans – UCD Chaplain