Must we face death to realize what is important?

Maybe Coronavirus is what it takes to slow us down. Life is fast and hectic and full of stress. We’re all racing around as if we think the world will stop spinning if we don’t get there in time, get our work done in time, stop at the cleaners, leave soon enough to beat the traffic, get the kids to soccer, baseball, gymnastics, or whatever.

Most things we worry about never happen.

We worry about all the details of life and some of us bear too much stress in our normal, everyday lives. Mostly we’re worrying about relatively mundane things. The heating system or the air conditioner, the car, what’s for supper, whether we need a new roof, when to take the teenager to get a tux or a dress for prom, whether the bills are all paid, what to do about someone’s birthday, whether we can get an appointment to get the dog groomed, or just generally anxious about filling our obligations and shouldering our responsibily in a world hooked on speed that won’t slow down.

Maybe we’re trying to do extra at work, to stand out in a highly competitive field, or wondering what the boss meant by what they said today. We’re afraid to go to bed without having everything ready for tomorrow — kids’ clothes laid out, breakfast planned, the homework done, the work we brought home finished , the presentation ready— and generally living a life that seems to be just one demand after another.

Even in retirement we stress. And hurry. We hurry to the store before the crowds after school, we hurry to get ready and get to church if we go, we hurry to our numerous doctor’s appointments, or wherever else we are going. We bump into people and concentrate on our mission so intensely that we forget to say “excuse me” and later realize we were rude, then stress about that.

In retirement we stress about whether we need a will, or a burial plan, if we have enough health insurance or if our savings will hold out for the rest of our lives. We worry that the Republicans will ruin Social Security when we need it and a pension, too, just to make do. We worry about our elderly parents, our kids, our friends, coworkers, and, if we have a partner, each other. And yes, we worry about our own health — whether we spent too much time in the sun, smoked too much, drank too much — and about whether we can stay independent and mobile until we die, or if we’re headed for ghastly medical procedures and time alive but not really living.

Stress kills more people than the Coronavirus will.

Life is a mess for most people. And it’s flying by while we barely even notice. We’re so concerned with our daily travels, commutes, duties, performances and struggles that our time is anything but quality. Stress probably kills more people than the pandemic will, but we don’t think about that. Even kids are stressed. Can they keep those grades up? Can they get in a good college? Do other kids like them? Are their parents gone too much and working so hard they don’t notice how sad a child may be?

Is it really that important to be the first one at yoga? Do we really have to stand in line to get a fancy coffee every day while worrying we don’t have time to stand in line? Will our kids lives be forever ruined if they aren’t in three extracurricular activities? Will the whole family die if no one gets home in time to cook supper and it’s take-out of frozen pizza?

This isn’t 1918.

The truth is much of what we think is important is not. Not in the general and overall scheme of things. They say that most of the things we worry about never come to pass. Even if they do, will worry change the outcome? Will it matter 10 years from now that we had to miss work and the kids missed school for a historic pandemic. Yes, it will, but not everything about it will be a horror. We aren’t going to be hauling dead bodies around in open horse-drawn wagons like they did during the flu pandemic. Our ancestors had to make it through that 1918 pandemic and they didn’t have the medicine, equipment or know-how we have today. They couldn’t watch the news or look online every few hours to see how things are going. Most of them lost people. My own paternal great grandfather and his father, my great-great grandfather, died just days apart. My great-grandmother and her young son, my grandfather, survived.

We’ve been creating a society of spoiled brats

My parents lived through the depression as children. We are not a society of shrinking violets even though we sometimes act like it. Actually, we may be spoiled, our kids are too accustomed to ease, and think they’re entitled to it without effort. Among the middle and upper classes children can grow up without ever having to do so much as mow the lawn or vacuum the rug. My own grandson, 16, visited his great-grandmother, and played pool with his dad while paid gardeners worked in the yard. Half the time we aren’t really sure where our teenagers are. Sometimes we wonder if we even know who they are.

We’re watching young students on sunny Florida beaches who are more worried about partying on spring break than whether they bring home a virus that may kill their parents, their grandparents, or their little sisters and baby brothers. I’m sorry, but these self-absorbed young humans need a full stop. They need to be awakened to reality. I hope things don’t get too bad for them and that not one of them perishes. But they would do well to absorb some of the stark realities of life that will start hitting them fast and soon.

Families at home together. . .

We’re too busy. We can’t just sit around the house with the kids. Except now most of us must. Soon we may be ordered to. Wonder how it will be for the whole family to be home for weeks together? A two week vacation is about the most time any family spends together these days.

One thing is certain, our lives are about to be anything but normal.

Coronavirus has yanked us up short and reminded us what is important. Now that so many of us must stay home with our families, we may actually get to know each other better, have time to talk, reach understandings, eat meals together, and be forced to take time to simply live. Home projects may get done. There is time to help their kids with school work. Many parents may find their children have problems they never expected or realized.

It’s going to be different and families aren’t going to be able to avoid each other, or our conflicts, either. We may, finally, have to look each other in the eye and actually try to communicate. We may argue and be forced to resolve it — because no one is going anywhere and we’re stuck together.

We may come out better, stronger. . .

Things will be different after the pandemic. A lot of the changes will be unfortunate, bad, and heartbreakingly sad for all of us. There will be grief for many if not most. Loved ones will be lost. Ironically there could be good things, hopeful things, that happen to those of us who live through it. We may be better, stronger, and kinder. We just may discover the life we were living was not the way we want to live. We may change course or rethink our dreams. We may rediscover our value.

What is important — and where we find each other in the age of the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 — is that we do all we can to ensure that we, our loved ones, and others, too, simply live. That cuts to the chase. We are awakening to the truth.

No more worrying about getting to the gym on time or getting a manicure before the end of the week. Now we must worry about staying well, and if we get sick, simply surviving.

Surviving is suddenly at the top of our to-do list.

Who would have thought even a year ago that today we would be trying to survive instead of trying to get to work on time? These are strange and frightening times. It all feels so surreal. We are watching in horror as the death toll rises every day, hearing that we must keep our distance from each other, and being told that we must “shelter in place” to stay safe.

We’re watching convoys of military vehicles carrying the dead away in Italy. It seems as if our eyes are deceiving us or we’re just having a terrible dream. This can’t be happening. But it is.

The Italians are warning us, trying to make us understand how bad this can get and how quickly things can change. Do we really hear them? Will we heed their warnings?

We need a strong generation to emerge to face the challenges on this and other fronts.

We could use another generation tempered by fire as were the children of the Great Depression; or those who endured the horror of World War II.

Instead of buying all the meat and toilet paper, maybe we need exposure to something like having food rationed to us. My mother remembers those days well. She’s 90 and says she’s not worried about whether we have to stay inside or get vouchers for food rations. She’s been through that before, she says with a shrug, and adds she can do that. What she is worried about is surviving and everyone she loves surviving. Often she’s told us what it was like during the depression and for her family, a long time afterward.

“If we couldn’t have grown and harvested peas we would have starved” she remembers. Her industrious mother planted rows of purple hull peas in her backyard garden. They grow easily and profusely in this part of the country. Peas with biscuits or cornbread was their usual meal. Meat was unusual. What wasn’t immediately eaten was preserved and saved. My mother remembers how happy they were when they had different food on Sundays or for special occasions. She said sometimes they were allowed to make candy with some of the precious rationed sugar, and that was a rare and special treat. Her cousins were not allowed to use the sugar rations for candy so they came to her house to help and be treated to a piece of candy.

Maybe, as bad as this may be, we needed a catastrophe of this magnitude to enable us to just get a damn grip. As a society we need to stop right here a minute. In being still and staying at home, we’ll come face to face with the grim reality that there’s no guarantee we and everyone we love will live through this. There’s a realization sinking into most people’s minds, finally, that they may not survive.

Our government may fall apart. Indeed, many of us think it already has, long before this crisis. Our economy is faltering. Businesses will be lost. Our favorite places will close. The shopping malls will close. As people become desperate, parts of our world will become more dangerous.

Hospitals will be overwhelmed and understaffed. Healthcare workers are human, and fatigue and the lack of proper protections make them vulnerable. Already there are not enough of them — but some will get sick — and their numbers will drop.

Two lawmakers have checked positive for COVID-19 as I write this. How many lawmakers — who must steer the US through this by creating legislation to help people survive — will become sick? How many will die? Will we be able to keep enough of congress on the job to take care of government business? Will government workers be able to stay on the job? Will our troops be decreased because of COVID-19? What about the Presidential Primary? What effect will all of this have on the November election?

Already we heard this week about a physician who had Coronavirus but refused to occupy a hospital bed that someone else needed. He became critical quickly and passed away. There will be many stories like that.

How bad it gets depends on us.

We have still not realized all the ramifications yet, but if we are all careful and follow the directions to stay at home, isolate from others, and follow all the safety measures recommended, we might possibly slow down the spread. How bad it ultimately gets will depend on how individuals react.

More people are going to get sick and some will die as well. Some we care about may perish. How many depends upon whether we can follow instructions and alter our lives to keep our distance and help contain the highly contagious and dangerous virus.

Worldwide, thousands have already died. But in China, where the pandemic started, there are no new cases as this is written. Therefore we know it can be stopped. We can hope Coronavirus will be contained here and not nearly so bad as feared. We have the power to slow and even stop its spread. China did. But it will take all of us. We have to push in the same direction. Everyone has a role to play.

There is hope. There is always hope.

We must take care of each other and protect the vulnerable by staying away from them and by staying at home. If jobs force us to go out and risk exposure, we can isolate from our families and therefore protect them.

We can protect each other and ourselves by staying away, keeping our distance, keeping our hands clean, and away from our faces. We can disinfect our homes. We can wipe down the groceries we bring home with disinfectant and wash produce with soap and water. We can disinfect our telephones often and keep our hands off others.

If we have disinfectant wipes we can wipe off the handle of the gas pump before and after we use it. If we have to touch a door we can try to use our elbow or immediately use santizer on our hands.

We will have time to decide what is important, and just as importantly, what doesn’t matter at all.

Now that we find ourselves in our homes alone or with others we live with there’s time for reflection and introspection. What, exactly are we doing with our lives? Are we striving for things that matter or just racing around like ants when the nest is disturbed? Do we even know what truly matters? How much of what we race around doing on a daily basis will matter in 10 years? 25 years? 35 years? Probably not much, if any at all. The kids won’t die or be forever disadvantaged if they miss soccer practice.

Some things, however, will matter greatly — especially the love we give each other and the memories we make together. We have time to do important things now if we take advantage of the situation and time to reflect.

It’s time now to pause and reassess our lives.

Stop. We must stop our regular routines, but moreover, we need to stop. Stop whining and stop resisting what we must all do to help. Stay home. It’s precious little to ask of us considering the threat to our world and the risks others must take.

Think about the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Think about the ambulance attendants who have no choice but to risk their lives trying to save others. Think about healthcare workers who must expose themselves to the virus but lack the protective gear they need. If we are lucky enough not to be among those who have to work and risk exposure, we should count ourselves blessed and be grateful. We should not cause them to have to work harder in more desperate situations because we wanted to go out shopping for more stuff to horde, or wanted to go partying, and ignored the need to stay home, just because we could.

Surely we can all do this one thing. We are strong when we work together. We can have a huge part in containing and controlling Coronavirus. Stay home and tell others that’s what they need to do, too. Make it inappropriate and tacky for people to parade around doing whatever they choose and causing others to suffer for their recklessness. Notice people who show us by their actions they do not care about spreading the deadly virus. Let them know we see them. Do not be one of them. Don’t be a jerk.

What we wish we had said.

Think about the people on ventilators fighting for their lives. Think about how we would feel and what would be most important to us if we were in that situation. Any of us could be. That is reality. What would we wish we’d said or done? Say it now. Tell those you love right now what you would wish you’d said if you were on a ventilator and unable to talk.

Then take your vitamins, eat whatever good food is available, exercise, play games as a family, tell each other stories, watch movies that make you laugh, and look outside to watch the sunrise and sunset.

If you are a religious person, a person of faith, or a spiritual person, say your prayers, or send out positive loving energy, or whatever you do to connect with anything bigger than us, even if it’s just an idea. Put good out into the universe.

This will pass. It’s like what they say about being in prison: One can spend good time or bad time, but one is going to spend time. We’re going to do time trying to live through a pandemic. Make it good time.

Take care of each other. Remember what is important. Let the rest go. If we do all we can now, most of us will live to tell about it. There’s nothing wrong with drawing closer to our families and narrowing down our hectic lives to only what matters. Those who endure this crisis and endure will emerge better for it.

Take care. Love hard. Help others. Live fully. Practice kindness. Wish each other well. We will get through this.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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