One of the dangerous side effects of our current COVID-19 shutdown is the inevitable feeling of helplessness that comes from being directed to “shelter-in-place” – particularly if our vocation is considered “non-essential.” What incredibly dis-empowering words!
Each day, we are barraged with images and words that affirm our helplessness. Arbitrary timelines. The “Flatten the curve” message has been ubiquitous in telling us to stay put, stay out of the way, and do no harm. What should we conclude when we’re told that the only way we can help is by hunkering down, lying low, and waiting for our instructions? That we’re helpless.
There are many who are fighting on the front lines trying to treat those who are infected, assure those who aren’t, stem the outbreak, all while still serving the ill, the broken, and the injured among us. Thank you. They may feel helpless in stemming the tide but their skills are being deployed daily to meet a need. You are NOT helpless, keep fighting the good fight.
What about the rest of us? Are we truly helpless? Are we victims of an invisible threat lurking around every corner, rendering our talents irrelevant in the face of its onslaught?
I was truly discouraged by Dr. Fauci’s statement that “You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.” I realize there are all kinds of political implications in that comment but stop for a moment and read the words: “You.” “Don’t.” “Virus.” “Makes.” The message is clear: we are not in control, a mindless, microscopic infectious agent is in control. We are helpless. YOU are helpless.
But we aren’t helpless. In and around this entire pandemic are a variety of choices. Our leaders have choices. Our employers have choices. Our institutions have choices. We have choices. There are a few of us who are victims of the virus, or cancer, or injury, or illness, or other disease. But even most of us in those categories still have choices. When you have a choice, you are not helpless.
So, what are your choices? Looking out into my neighborhood yesterday, I saw many people out for walks. Good choice, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Looking on social media, I see other choices. Complaining. Deriding. Fear-mongering. Spreading incorrect information – I saw someone claim that over 400,000 Chinese were infected with COVID-19, a statistic confused with the total number of worldwide cases. Probably a mistake rather than a choice. I digress.
There are also those who are choosing more constructive paths. A purveyor of custom suits out of Detroit turned their sewing skills to the production of masks. Great work Manno Clothing & Tailoring! I’ve seen many sharing words of encouragement: prayer, statistical insights, success stories, coping strategies, food sources, toilet paper sources, distractions, humor, and a host of other constructive activities. I’ve seen many young people out on bikes, walks, and even a group decorating neighborhood sidewalks with encouraging chalk work. Not helpless. Making choices. In some cases, simply choosing to keep living.
We want our government to show us leadership and present a plan to mitigate danger and give us a path forward. Reminding us that we’re not in control and leaving things open-ended is not a strategy for moving forward. We want leaders who are showing up and working to improve things, solve problems, comfort the suffering, and reminding us that there is hope. If you are watching, reading, or listening to anything that is not evoking hope and positive energy, stop. Just stop.
We are not helpless. We all have a role to play. We all have choices to make. Make good ones. Choose positive over negative. Work to be proactive rather than just reactive to the news or darkness of the day. Ask yourself: what are the constructive things I can do today? Break it down into two lists: constructive for my own life and constructive for the lives of others. Do at least one thing from each list today. If you’re feeling ambitious, do a few more!
Not for Long
We cannot stay locked-down for long. We will have to step out into the fearful unknown at some point soon. Prepare for that moment. There is no running away and hiding from COVID-19 or whatever comes next. We have to face it. Face it as a country and as individuals. We are not helpless. We are not victims.
Today, begin thinking about your life after “shelter-in-place.” What does your new normal look like? How do you turn the bizarre events of the last few weeks to your advantage and in a way that moves you toward your best life? You are not helpless. You don’t have to feel helpless. Look at your immediate world and make the choice to take positive action – whatever that may mean for you.
Don’t let anyone convince you that you have no choices. Don’t wait for any government agency to fix your life or solve your problem. Pray. Hope. Encourage. Vote. Join the conversation. Act. But don’t wait. Do your part to make things better. Do your part to make your life better. Do it now.