We’re in transition mode at our house. Clothes for a warmer season lay out on the bed in the guest bedroom, packets of pocket side Kleenex, water bottles and travel maps are stacked on the kitchen table. Having gotten our two vaccine shots my husband and I are venturing out of our house on a road trip out of our county, and state for the first time in over a year.
I apologize to those of you still waiting your turn for the vaccines or those of you spending enormous time and effort trying to secure an appointment for one. But I must admit, these jitters I’m feeling in my body are not just pure excitement. There’s a mix of trepidation and fear as I prepare to let go of the seclusion of my present life and embark on the chaotic unknown.
Traveling is always disruptive to ordinary life, that’s part of its value, particularly if we label the effort “a vacation.” But I remind myself, this trip, like everything else in the past year, is occurring in the midst of a global mass trauma event, the first in everyone’s lifetime no matter their age. As a mental health professional and a student of grief and loss my body wisdom is well aware of this fact with its accompanying responsibility to behave kindly and empathetically towards fellow sufferers. I expect that where I will be traveling, the communities and people I encounter may not be tuned in agreement with my perspective on this situation.
As we are setting out, over 500,000 people in the US have lost their lives to the COVID19 virus leaving behind 4.5 million grieving and traumatized loved ones. The global economy, the shops on main street, jobs, schools, restaurants and coffee shops, places of worship, careers and individual people’s mental health–nothing has been left untouched. Trauma is more than just stress. As David Trickey, a psychologist in the UK explains, it is “a rupture in meaning-making.” It affects the way people see themselves, the world and other people. Reactions to trauma involve a sustained and severe feeling of helplessness.
When faced with helplessness, a place to turn can be social networks of friends and family, yet during this pandemic we have been warned about gathering with others lest we make others sick or cause a loved ones’ death. Praying and meditation, turning to a Higher Power, or a worship community helps, but the ways in which these things usually happen have been disrupted or forbidden. Professional helpers and support groups can offer solutions but, for people whose responsibilities have tripled–being a parent and your child’s teacher, a health care worker and a home caregiver, or an essential worker leaving home each day under the risk of bring home the virus, these people have had little time to avail themselves of such resources.
Finally, one of the best antidotes to helplessness is taking social action for the common good. I personally know people who are volunteering at a food pantry, sewing masks for health care workers, and helping tech challenged seniors secure vaccine appointments on-line. Since the pandemic has unmasked issues of inequality in our culture, many are working to end voter suppression, and to encourage and take part in conversations between people of different political persuasions. It would be helpful if we could become the United States of America again. Others have increased their dedication to work for clean air and water, and ordinances to protect the planet. All of these activities restore to the actors, a sense of the world as meaningful and their own lives as worthwhile.
As I head out, words of a colleague staying in one of the communities I’ll be visiting, ring in my ears. “Don’t be surprised when you don’t see many masks or social distancing. Our community has allowed those ordinances to expire. We’re back opened up.”
Being vaccinated has taken away my personal fear of a virus that could cause me illness and death, but not my intention and strong commitment to not bring harm to others. Some have declared the virus a hoax. Others been more concerned for respecting personal rights over peoples’ responsibilities to their communities. But declaring that the crisis does not exist or that it is over does not make it so. I pray that I will remember that everyone I meet has been involved in the same mass trauma event as I have this past year. Though they may have chosen to believe otherwise, we do have some say over how the traumatic event unfolds and when and how it will end.