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“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” — Joyce Meyer
Hello world. We are now in the infancy of April and deeply entrenched in the battle against the global pandemic known as COVID-19. And the hard truth is things are looking much grimmer than we anticipated they would be.
America has surpassed the rest of the world’s count of coronavirus infections. The death toll is rising rapidly and is expected to get considerably worse over the next couple of weeks. Millions of Americans are out of work and unemployment claims have reached record highs. We have done all we can to busy ourselves, keep ourselves entertained, and continue with some degree of normalcy in our daily lives, but the truth is normalcy has reached a point of near impossibility. Every day of social distancing, isolation and quarantine feels like a slow drift on a never ending conveyor belt. We all want to believe with every fiber in our being that an end is in sight. But with every new report announced and every name that we now have to reference in the past tense due to this virus, it becomes increasingly more agonizing to wait this moment out.
I am more than sure that no one, irrespective of sociopolitical status, gender, age or ethnicity, had plans of having their 2020 put on an indefinite pause. A new year brings about the prospect of new possibilities and the oncoming of the spring season is symbolic of bloom and growth. The world is collectively experiencing a wilting of our plans, goals and in some instances, a decaying of our loved ones. None of this is easy to reckon with and for the vast majority of us, we have never witnessed a calamity of this magnitude in our lifetimes. And though it almost seems asinine and/or condescending for me to be writing about the value of us maintaining patience in this time, being that none of us have a magic wand or crystal ball to either diminish or predict what our immediate future will look like, patience in this moment is beyond a virtue; it is necessary for our survival.
Here’s some additional and personal context for anyone who may be reading this: for those of us tasked with writing the nuances of the times we are in, I can assure you that most, if not all of us, would rather be focusing on other topics. Which is not to say that every journalist, essayist, columnist, poet etc. spends every waking minute writing about COVID-19, but it is to acknowledge that whether we are specifically writing about this pandemic or not, we are immersed in it and to a large extent are obligated to scribe where we are in this continuum of time.
What I can tell you is that upon beginning my contract with The North Star, I pitched a variety of concepts for the editorial team to consider that I have for the most part opted to put on hold to give language to the now. I desperately want to be able to focus on ideas that have no correlation whatsoever to this pandemic, but to do so would be dishonest to my genuine thoughts and concerns, and as the great Nina Simone once said, “it is an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.”
And so as a writer, I have to exercise patience in my output. As a husband, I have to exercise patience in understanding a new dynamic of me and my wife both working from home and having a single bathroom and similar bathroom breaks. As an arts educator and organizer, I have to exercise patience every time I get on Zoom with a community of folks I’d rather be fellowshipping with in real life. As a citizen, I have to exercise patience with a federal response that can be best described as tragic comedy. And as a human, I have to exercise patience with my faith in humanity, and believe that at some point in the very near future that we all will begin adhering to the directives given to save lives. None of these exercises in steadfastness are simple, but what is the alternative other than to defy common logic, disregard my own personal health and put myself in grave danger?
“Patience, the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress or suffering, is worth cultivating. The virtue is associated with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as reducing depression and other negative emotions.” — Anna Goldfarb
It would be completely disingenuous to say that I have not drifted towards a depressive state. I know I’m not alone in that feeling. This spring has been strange in the sense that it has provided the optimum weather in south Louisiana to be out and about. My wife and I take daily walks from our neighborhood to Baton Rouge’s downtown district, which accounts for a little more than a mile and a half of daily exercise. But what is of equal value to the physical activity is the cathartic feeling of knowing that there’s still a world beyond our shelter. Even if the streets are quiet and the traffic is minimal; we are still able to enjoy mid-70 to low 80 degree weather, unrestricted by martial law. I have been deeply concerned that stubbornness of the people in my area would force our local government to take more drastic measures than mere ‘stay at home’ directives. I am grateful that we are still able to move about on our own accord, and hopeful that our people will primarily utilize our freedom of mobility to stay put. My home state is being ransacked with a continuous uptick in new COVID cases. We have religious leaders defying declarations, endangering the lives of thousands and believing that their reasoning is righteous enough to justify their doors being opened. My people are struggling with the concept of patience, which may be in part because we live in a state that statistically bottoms out in virtually every quality of life metric, and therefore do not recognize the infection gamble as in any more threatening than our daily existence. But Louisiana does not own the trademark on impatient behavior in these times. In many ways, it is the American spirit to move about in a self-assured, invincible manner. We are not collectively acknowledging the level of distress we are putting on ourselves by attempting to expedite this moment in history, and that has resulted in our infection rates skyrocketing in comparison to the rest of the developed world. I fear that if we as a people do not get better at exercising patience in this moment, we will begin to see more folks die of non-virus related causes brought on by extreme stress and/or self harm as a means to escape this season. When we can grasp the idea that the health impact of this pandemic reaches beyond just the infected, we will be able to better manage our lack of impulse control. This will all eventually end, our patience will largely determine if it will end us in the process.
“Life is a long marathon, and you have to be consistent. Anyone can sprint for 1500 meters, but you have to pace yourself through your entire life.” — Fabio Lanzoni
Every day for the last month and a half, I have tried to pace myself. My efforts have been met with mixed results. There are days when I am super productive and days when I just want to curl in a fetal position and sleep until someone says this period has ended. It is a delicate balance between wanting to stay informed about the lifeline of this virus and wanting to tune all the way out. Too much news feels draining and not enough news feels like walking out into the world as a moving target. I am slowly settling into the idea that we may be deep into the summer before getting a solid handle on COVID-19. I do not want that to be the prognosis of this monster named coronavirus, but allowing myself to accept the slow erasure of this disease guides me in navigating this moment in history one day at a time. I know that tomorrow will not produce a miracle, nor will the week after that or the month after that. This is less about being pessimistic or lacking faith and more about understanding that the science does not support an abrupt disappearance of this pandemic. So in the name of pacing, I am trying to be better at stretching out my weekly goals and to-dos. The reality is we all have an abnormal amount of time to get things done, sans the hustle and bustle of life on the move and I just want to be as honest with myself with respect to acquiescing to the rising and falling action of this universal narrative. The pace of recovery from all of this will in no way resemble the stride of the hare, but rather that of the tortoise, and if we remember anything from those classic children’s book characters we know that steadiness can win the race in a manner that swiftness may not.
“The art of pacing ourselves can literally mean the difference between life and death in today’s hectic world.” — Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
The world is losing lives at an incredibly rapid pace. From Italy to New York, Spain to Michigan, in small towns and urban centers, this pandemic is separating souls from their loved ones. We know that death is an inevitable aspect of life, but no one wants to die on account of someone else’s negligence or irresponsibility. However, every day, millions of people around the world are becoming infected with this virus largely because there were people in their ecosystem who refused to slow down long enough to stay out of harm’s way. We now know that a person can be considered asymptomatic and be a disease carrier. We know that hospitals are overly occupied and supplies are in shortage. We know that folks with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly are at an extreme risk of contracting the virus. We know that the poor and uninsured are basically served a death sentence upon being diagnosed. We know that this illness has interrupted commerce, quarantined family members within households and mercilessly ravaged/exploited the inadequacies of our healthcare system. Even the most ill-informed of us knows that there’s a dying world out there, so why are we having such a hard time staying distant from danger? If we have not reached the precipice of self-destruction, then what will it take to talk us off the ledge? How many folks have to die for us to live like our lives are at risk?
“Do not consider painful what is good for you.” — Euripides
So much of our contention with practicing social distancing and other directives given to flatten the coronavirus curve can be attributed to a lack of discipline. In this hyper speed information age that bombards us with distractions every second, many of us struggle to deny ourselves that which may be harmful to our well-being. We are a society of binge drinkers and over eaters. We are the gamblers, the risk takers, the hyper sexualized and the excessive consumers. We place an exorbitant amount of value in who follows us on social media, on how many circles can our names ring in and in how much we can expand the vastness of our profile to the point of being obnoxious. American culture is one of hyperbole. It is a climate deeply rooted in exaggeration and grandstanding that is often hard pressed to humble itself enough to conduct the type of self-evaluation needed to sit still. We are suffering immensely in this pandemic because culturally we have a difficult time saying no to our impulses. Enduring this time calls for a sense of discipline that is often the antithesis to our cocksure nature. It certainly is not all of us, but it is enough of us that are making it difficult to move beyond this moment. And unfortunately, the virus does not distinguish between those of us who never questioned its potential for damage and those of us who casually dismissed it and then shared it with everyone else.
“Viewing ourselves as free and responsible for our actions is the foundation for self-discipline. Evidence shows that people function better and are more able to deal with stress when they feel that they are in control. Believe that things are beyond your control and they probably will be.” — Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D.
It is my hope that if you are reading this, you emerge from this moment with your health intact. It is estimated that a quarter-million Americans will succumb to COVID-19 when the final numbers are tallied, and for all we know those estimates may still be modest. I do not have to know you to know that you deserve the fullness that life has to offer, whether I agree with your personhood or not. And what I mean is the longevity of your existence should not be compromised by a lack of compliance from your community. If your loved ones need a model for what it means to be socially distant, be that. If your family is not as versed as you are on the impact of this pandemic, be a solid source of information for them. If you believe that your health deserves more than the crapshoot of surviving in impacted areas, then take the precautions needed to keep yourself whole and here. If you’re reading this, I trust that you can weather this storm and hopefully we can cross paths when the sun is shining brightly on us again.