Forget the news, and the radio, and the blurred screen.
This is the time of loaves and fishes.
People are hungry and one good word is bread for a thousand.
Every day I wake up hoping for a miracle — a reliable vaccine, rain dousing the wildfires, a superhero arriving in the nick of time to save our bacon. I’m still waiting on the first two, but I was delighted to learn that Batman has surfaced (at last!) and is doing heroic things in Santiago, Chile. Wearing two masks — one shiny black with pointy ears, the other for coronavirus protection — the Caped Crusader prepares and delivers hot meals to the city’s homeless. And along with the empanadas and cazuela, he brings heartening words and a bit of lighthearted banter.
“Look around you,” said the do-gooder, who asks that his real name not be revealed (as if everybody doesn’t know it’s Bruce Wayne). “See if you can dedicate a little time, a little food, a little shelter, a word sometimes of encouragement to those who need it.”
Times of crisis bring out the best and worst in people. We’ve all watched, aghast, as supposedly sane adults throw hissy fits over masks and insist harebrained conspiracy theories are true because it says so on the Internet. But others, like Chile’s Batman, find in themselves unexpected wellsprings of kindness and compassion. Did you hear about three-year-old Mia Villa who has baked over 1,000 chocolate chip cookies for front-line and essential workers? Yes, her mom helps but says Mia was the inspiration for the Cookie Kindness project.
Then there’s electrician John Kinney, who came to fix 72-year-old Gloria Scott’s broken overhead light and realized that the whole house needed help. “No lights, running water… I [saw] her on a Friday and it stuck with me over the weekend… I said, ‘I got to go back there.’” Kinney returned to make additional repairs, free of charge, then recruited more volunteers and eventually formed Gloria’s Gladiators to assist elderly neighbors in need.
Sometimes the person we most need to help is ourselves. If you’re not feeling existential angst these days, you haven’t been paying attention. Every part of our lives has been turned upside down and inside out, leaving us reeling — and ready to hit the reset button.
“We’re questioning the very fundamentals of the ‘normal’ we’d all come to unthinkingly accept — and realizing we don’t want to go back, not to that,” wrote Sigal Samuel in Vox. “Living in quarantine for months has offered some — mostly the privileged among us — a rare opportunity to reflect on our lives and, potentially, to reset them. Workers whose jobs defined their lives are now asking what all that productivity was for, and whether we really want to measure our self-worth by the yardstick of hypercompetitive capitalism. Many are finding that the things that made them look ‘successful’ actually also made them feel miserable, or precarious, or physically unwell.”
How can we change for the better? Here are eight quarantine-inspired habits Vox readers vow to keep.
Like New Year’s resolutions — 80% of which are abandoned by February — I expect many of these habits will disappear long before we put our masks away in the attic for good. But hey, if even one sticks, it’s a step in the right direction.
Journeys of self-discovery aren’t always comfortable. In one survey 55% of respondents said they felt embarrassed about some of their pre-pandemic values.
Take science, for instance. I don’t know about you, but I’ve read more about biology, medicine, chemistry, and epidemiology in the past six months than I ever did in high school, college, and my years as a magazine health writer. It’s amazing how having your life in danger sharpens your interest in data that could help you survive. Despite the best efforts of the lunatic fringe to discredit them, scientific experts are more respected than ever and viewed as more trustworthy than the media, business leaders, or elected officials (obviously a low, low bar).
“COVID death tolls,” said Katharine Hayhoe, climate researcher at Texas Tech University, “provide feedback on a daily basis of what happens when you ignore science.” Maybe that’s why people are now paying more attention to climate change, too. About two thirds of Americans say that during quarantine they experienced transformative “eco wake-up calls” realizing they — and the government — must step up and protect the environment.
People are re-configuring all their relationships, starting with their partners. Couples in their twenties report spending less time having sex and more time communicating — and they’re OK with that. “I feel like we’ve gone through 30 years of marriage in three months,” says Kate in New York. “But it’s definitely shown me the resilience behind the relationship. It’s like a challenge that I think we both wanted to step up for. So it’s definitely made us stronger.” In Texas, Layne voices a more basic benchmark. “It’s a real good test of a relationship that you can be stuck in the same place as someone for such an extended period of time and not want to rip each other's heads off.”
Several recent studies have shown that the age group handling the pandemic most gracefully is older adults (my cohort). Despite constant reminders that we’ve got a COVID-19 target painted on our backs, those born before 1965 are coping better, in part because we’re juggling fewer work and family responsibilities, but also because we’ve learned how to survive catastrophic times. As columnist Helen Dennis put it, “We can reassure young people that this too shall pass.” And having grown up in the pre-digital age, we find it easier to live with less stimulation and more silence.
Poet David Whyte says, “All of our great traditions, religious, contemplative and artistic, say that you must learn how to be alone — and have a relationship with silence. It is difficult, but it can start with just the tiniest quiet moment.” The universe has given us a big time out to consider our lives and figure out how to be the adults we hoped to become when we were kids and wondered how we’d turn out.
What has surprised you most about the way life turned out? Let me know in the comments below.
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9/24/2020 05:27:03 pm
Karen K McCann
9/25/2020 09:50:47 pm
Sandra, those are wonderful lessons of gratitude, hope, and love. I know we could both make long lists of what's going wrong these days (in fact, I think we covered that last time we Zoomed!) but there are silver linings even to these gloomy times. I'm still celebrating the fact I finally got a professional haircut the other day — my first in six months! — and the guy hardly snickered at all over the mess my hair had become. Virtual, socially distanced hugs to you, my friend.
9/24/2020 07:35:17 pm
I don't want to get political on your excellent site, but we need to elect politicians who are interested in working in concert (Whilst fighting bravely) with the opposition. We need to fight for what we believe in but keep the best interests of the country in mind. . . . and we need to go camping, in the woods, with a dog.
Karen K McCann
9/25/2020 09:59:40 pm
Duane, I couldn't agree more. If we all kept the best interests of the country in mind, we could certainly make a lot more progress dealing with the grave issues confronting us now, and those looming on the horizon. As for camping, these days I'm more of a take-long-walks-in-the woods-then-head-home type, but I agree wholeheartedly that spending time in nature really helps to put things in perspective. As does hanging out with dogs. In fact, I've already put in a request — just in case reincarnation turns out to be true — that I want to be a canine in my next life. To spend my days roaming the woods and come home to sleep by the fire sounds like heaven to me.
9/26/2020 12:34:54 am
You caught me! I don’t camp any more either and I don’t own a dog. I have camped and I have owned a dog. 🙃😀
9/25/2020 12:26:28 am
6 months' vigil; 6 weeks' hope.
Karen K McCann
9/25/2020 10:11:42 pm
Ah Joe, still working on your six word story about the current world situation, I see. I love this literary form! It allegedly started with Hemingway, who may or may not have written this six-word novel: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." But my personal favorite, by an obscure sci-fi writer, is this one: "It's behind you. Hurry before it—" Which come to think of it, summarizes the current world situation pretty well.
9/25/2020 12:35:12 am
Confirmed my belief that my wife, Jean, is more fun that a barrel of monkeys....nay two barrels of monkeys!
Karen K McCann
9/26/2020 01:13:22 am
Agreed, Paul! You are one lucky guy!
9/25/2020 04:02:43 pm
Great blog as usual.
Karen K McCann
9/26/2020 01:21:31 am
You're so right, Nancy, that activism is very different right now. I had planned to spend this summer doing voter registration and marching in support of dealing with climate change. Neither are possible for me at the moment, so like you, I'm zooming, writing, and doing what I can online. And I'm glad to be part of the effort. As Duane says, it's all about keeping the best interests of the country in mind. And as Sandra points out, supporting those who serve on the front lines is a great way to counterbalance the politicians' negative attitudes. COVID has offered us unexpected opportunities to regroup and reconfigure our lives; it'll be interesting to see where that leads.
9/26/2020 01:30:32 am
Love this post, Karen. Your post is about what is really important, what really matters, and not just when there is a pandemic, or when the country is on fire. Ditto all the comments, too.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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