Two news stories: the first, an Asian American woman attacked in February by a man in a subway due to racist concerns over the virus; the second, a 20-year-old college student in Nevada skipped Spring Break to start an organization of volunteers to deliver essential food and medicine to the elderly.
As society begins to slowly reopen, what will we carry with us from this pandemic? What have we learned in this still-unsettling time, and will it be fear or love that guides us now and in the future?
Pandemics and other big events reroute history. That was certainly true when the Black Death wiped out upwards of half the population in 14th century Europe. It led to deplorable levels of anti-Semitism and utter chaos, but also helped to bring the Middle Ages to its knees and ultimately pave the path for the Renaissance.
Life After Coronavirus
Though the Covid-19 pandemic in many ways doesn’t compare to the seismic effects of the Black Death, the current crisis has deeply rattled society, and ultimately left the future up for grabs. The end is still not exactly in sight, but this crisis will certainly leave a detour in 21st century history. To gain a glimpse of our options, here’s two more news stories: almost two million guns were sold in the US in the month of March alone; another: prepared food for a cancelled sports festival in Ohio was rerouted by refrigerated truck to first responders helping with tornado victims in Tennessee.
Across the world we are seeing acts of bravery and compassion from medical workers, neighbors, and young children. Unfortunately, we have also seen grown adults fighting in the aisles of supermarkets over toilet paper. It’s the classic matchup in times of chaos and uncertainty: fear vs. love.
We Can’t Do This Alone
The challenges of this pandemic make it difficult to not retreat into fear and self-protectionism. It can feel almost dangerous at first to allow ourselves to open up into compassion and generosity. As a humble practitioner of meditation for the last dozen years, the popular lovingkindness meditation (also known as Metta) has taught me through practice that love is not a form of self-sacrifice. It’s free. To wish others joy and safety and prosperity doesn’t actually cost us anything (though it does give us plenty).
In the West, we’ve been trained to think that in order to get ahead, we must claw over the heads of our competitors. Yet, the current situation reveals a fundamental truth: we can only get through this together. In fact, surviving and thriving through any adversity demands the prerequisite of togetherness. We are a social species, and a person left to endure tragedy without companionship will quickly break. Yet together, we can overcome the Holocaust, and world wars, and natural disasters, and yes, pandemics.
From a Place of Love
It’s important to first not function from fear, and that means reminding ourselves that in this moment we are okay. As the out-of-work father to a toddler and an infant, and as a human being trying to rectify the Kafkaesque world we’re inhabiting, I have to do this often. However, returning to the breath and allowing myself to feel the present moment—to return to where I am—the fear and anxiety gradually unravel (even if I have to do this regularly).
What is getting me through this time? Looking at my kids, and my wife, and even my neighbors, and feeling gratitude for the good people around me. Kids writing letters of encouragement to patients and medical staff, musicians applying their artistry to free and benefit concerts, and museums and zoos converting their services to free virtual platforms are all examples of human beings working for the collective good. In 2020, we’ll need more than that by electing leaders that work cooperatively, and take the well-being of our species and planet seriously.
Will we retreat into our bunkers of fear, unable or unwilling to face each other? Or, will we use this crisis as an unchosen opportunity to reevaluate and reprioritize, to make room for the relationships and experiences that matter most? Will we come together to tackle our biggest problems? Will we choose love or fear?
As we crawl out of quarantine, these and other questions will have to be not just asked but answered. What will the takeaway be from Covid-19? Time will tell, but the truth is, we as a people will be the ones who decide. The future is up for grabs.