lessons from a coronavirus on shifting space
These are some crazy times, and that is a huge understatement. I hardly even know where to start with this post…
When my RV journey began nearly two years ago, I had this idea about what shifting space meant to me. My worldview at the time centered on the negative aspects of society. The divisiveness, hatred, destruction, and inequalities took up the entire lens of my focus. I used to not be this way, I realized. I used to see more good and beauty in the world.
I recall a time, many moons ago, when I waited tables at Planet Hollywood in Chicago, and a friend and I were on our way to work. We were running late, or traffic was bad, or something along those lines that should have been at least somewhat stressful. The situation was so for my friend. In the middle of whatever frenzy existed at the moment (funny how I can’t recall that part of this incident), I exclaimed, “Wow! Look at that amazing sunset!” My friend turned to me with an incredulous look and made a comment something along the lines of, “How do you always do that? It doesn’t matter what is going on, how bad it is, you always stop to notice something like that?” She seemed almost angry. I didn’t know how to answer. I doubt she was expecting one anyway. I never realized until that moment that this was something I did. But I lost the tendency to notice the good somewhere along the way. I buried my ability to see silver linings and beauty amidst chaos, and I’m not sure why. It wasn’t just because of the recent polarization and violence that had erupted across my country. It had happened before that.
So, there came a time when I realized I’d lost that ability, and that coincided with the time I was coming to an understanding that my spirit always felt stifled in the regular work-a-day world. Hence the decision to chuck it all, buy an RV, and take off for a simple life on the road. With zero clue how to make a living out here. I just trusted I’d figure it out. (I’m still working on that part, by the way.) And shifting space was born. I wanted to get back to seeing good things. I believe negative breeds negative and positive breeds positive. We humans have a propensity for dwelling on the negative. A component of our problem-solving skills that can serve us well for survival but isn’t so good for our everyday well-being.
I set off with my best friend and four cats to discover the good in people and in our country.
Fast forward a year and a half. I find myself down in Texas teaching at my graduate alma mater when the world is blindsided. We shouldn’t have been. There were shouts that something of this magnitude was coming. There were screams when the novel coronavirus devastated China and spread outwards. But in addition to seeing the negative in front of us, humans have an equally strong and contradictory tendency to think that the worst can never truly happen to us. If it happens “over there” to “those people” then we are safe. We are smug in our security that life for us will go on as it always has. Until it doesn’t. We’ve been conditioned in America, especially, to think this way. American Exceptionalism runs deep in our collective psyche. But this virus is teaching us some lessons.
We are human. Every last one of us. There is nothing exceptional about us Americans that isn’t exceptional about people in every other country on this planet. We can’t get around the fact that we are all in this together, though some still try. COVID-19 has shown us exactly how inconsequential the boundaries are that we’ve drawn between countries and one another.
We are now being forced to put very real boundaries up in order to preserve our very human nature.
Shelter in place.
Remain 6 feet apart.
Wear a mask.
Quarantine for 14 days.
Boundaries that are literal and not figurative. These extremely necessary actions that all of us need to take to save lives (perhaps our own and definitely those of other people who are particularly vulnerable) are waking us up to the figurative boundaries we have drawn. Prior to this pandemic, you could look around at any social gathering and see just about every individual in the group more engrossed in their devices than they were present with the company they kept. Now, when our devices are the only way we can maintain many of our relationships, we suddenly realize how much we need real connections. Nothing can replace the warmth of a real hug. Virtual conversations are no match for the energy shared in the physical company of family and friends. Death is hard for those left behind, whether they live in our neighborhood or on the other side of the world.
COVID-19 has polarized us in another way. This state of opposition is more personal than intrapersonal. Many of us are now experiencing a polarization of our emotions. Normalcy competes with surrealism. Despair intermingles with calm or even joy. As the numbers we don’t want to see march rapidly up a steep incline, so too do the acts of kindness, the messages of love, and the moments of inspiration and hope. We are, if we are following the logical recommendations of medical and public health experts, forced inside. While we are forced into isolation, we are also being forced inside of our own minds, without the distractions that keep many of us from this inward journey on a regular basis. And it can be a hard place to find yourself when nothing has prepared you for the trip. But maybe, just maybe, we will come out the other side of our struggles the better for them, and the difficult sacrifices that have been forced upon us will not have been for naught.
This time is painful for many. We cannot negate that reality. But there is a coupled trend in sharing beauty that is so beautifully wrenching as well. It seems to me it first began with viral videos of Italians singing, collectively, from their balconies. These scenes touched us all. Now, amid the heartbreaking stories of unimaginable loss come new appreciations for art and music and laughter. And kindness is blossoming in the storm, too. We are becoming more grateful for things that we maybe took for granted before the world turned upside down. There are countless stories that recognize and acknowledge the bravery of our healthcare professionals and grocery store employees, of teachers and stay-at-home parents. Of restauranteurs providing food for school kids or the newly unemployed who can’t get through the staggeringly long wait times just to begin the process for unemployment benefits. We are newly discovering what the arts do for our souls. If you saw John Krasinski’s most recent episode of SGN (and if you haven’t, please do yourself a favor and watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oilZ1hNZPRM), you saw the magic that can come from spreading joy through art. There are countless magical musical montage videos out there that will move the hardest hearts to mush. Authors reading their stories to entertain kids. Art lessons. Dance outs. You name it. So many of us are finding that the way out of our dark moments is to explore our creative sides. Most importantly, we are discovering what generosity does for our own spirits.
I moved into this rig going on two years ago. In so many ways my life doesn’t look much different now than it did PP (pre-pandemic). I am ever so fortunate that I am working in a virtual setting. First, in teaching university courses that moved online after spring break, and second as a contracted writer. I am only just scraping by, and I fully recognize that that makes me luckier than so many others right now. My life might not look much different now, but I know that all of this is tenuous and the real strength for me, and for any of us, will come from our larger sense of community, from love, kindness, and connection. We are all in this together.
Whatever you’re feeling right now, be kind to yourself. If, like me, you want to cry at any given time for seemingly incongruous reasons, allow it. It is perfectly okay to be happy and sad at the same time, to laugh through your tears. And it’s okay too to not know exactly how to feel sometimes. Give yourself permission to just be. Let the love in any time you can, and then let it flow outwards again. We are all shifting space right now, and we are all in this together.
Sending out warm, virtual hugs to you all.
I’m going to leave you Zen a minute.
Until next time.