on global pandemics
Updated: May 22, 2020
Around a month ago, after emergency flying back from Seattle after only a day and a half there, my partner, our kitten, and I drove 9 hours from New York City to the outer banks of North Carolina where his parents own a house. We are currently weathering and waiting out the largest global pandemic since the Spanish Flu, and the largest national emergency in the United States in my lifetime, perhaps even the country’s history. Coronavirus, or COVID 19, or “the Rona”, the respiratory virus that has spread throughout the planet and ravaged many communities, economies, and most devastatingly, taken many people’s lives. When I say many, I mean hundreds of thousands. It is expected that by the end of this virus’ trajectory, over one million people will have left this earth at its hands. The empath in me is constantly preoccupied with the world’s suffering, as it is profound and awful. Everyone in the world who is not a medical care worker, a grocery store clerk, sanitation worker, government official, or other essential worker has been mandated to stay home and not to interact with other people for the duration of the pandemic in an effort to slow its impact and let it die out. I was unemployed for about a month before this, but most people I know, notably all artists, have lost their jobs. Everyone else is working remotely. Businesses have closed for the most part. All gatherings have been cancelled for likely another few months. We are here for an undetermined amount of time. You probably know all this if you’re reading this, but I think it bears recording anyway. As I write this, it feels dystopian, unreal, unimaginable. And yet, here we are.
My days consist of waking up, scrolling through social media in desperate and quiet attempts to stay present in the world while not being overwhelmed by reports of hospital conditions and the ridiculous and infuriating state of the government. I make coffee and breakfast as I listen to a podcast and then fill time with applying to jobs, video chatting with friends, dancing, drawing, writing, cooking, drinking, watching movies, being outdoors. I hear from a lot of my community that in some ways we are living healthier than we ever have before. In some ways this is a breakdown of so much that wasn’t serving people in the modern era. Part of me, a large part I think, hopes we never go back to the way things were. That this uncontrollable and senseless thing may serve as a catalyst for positive change and a shift of collective values. But the last people I hugged before my partner I hugged over a month ago, and that fact lives in my body, listless and alone. I miss people, and life outside of this moment.
This town is a strange place, mostly vacant in this moment because it’s off season for summer vacationers. People seem wary of us as outsiders, and it’s hard to blame them. It is located in the outer banks, and so we are a five minute walk from both the sound and the ocean with beaches on either side of the thin spit of land the town sits on. Being here makes me feel both a great amount of gratitude about our access to somewhere outside the city, and, if I’m being honest, quite a bit of guilt. It’s a beautiful place. At least once a day I walk down to the dock, down a rickety wooden staircase, but not before pausing in the overgrown marsh to feel my own wild reflected in the twisted trees and long wet grass and hanging vines and newborn flowers.
Here I am sure I must be some kind of witch.
Today, I sit on the edge of the dock with the wind pushing against me so that I involuntarily sway even in stillness, watching waves surge toward the shore, over the grass, pressing up against the sand in surrender. I am struck by these waves mirroring the waves raging against my ribcage, incited by the beating and struggling of my tender heart. The storm of emotion and evolution that I am waging under the surface of my skin. As I write this sentence, a wave crashes against a wooden post holding up the dock and small droplets jump up to lick my legs, almost in understanding, in support. When you live in isolation, you very quickly begin to find friendship in strange places. The sun’s warmth, a bird’s call, the sound of rain, the unstable twinkle of the stars.
As the wind pushes against me, I have the impulse, as I have for the past several months, to push back. To test my own strength, to question, to deny previous perceptions of myself, to deny shame and self hatred built out of expectation and societal norms, to deny systems that have disenfranchised me to the point where I cannot serve others in the ways that I want to, and therefore being complicit in their disenfranchisement. To grow past the container I have built for myself. To lean into what I don't already know, and to what I have known my whole life. That I have a power and resilience and spirit that I am only beginning to understand and unleash.
It has been a bizarre year for my life. To catch you up, I moved across the country from the home I knew in Seattle, after almost five years there, to New York City to start a graduate program I ultimately realized was not a fit for me, and soon after realized New York is also not a place I am interested in living. And then a global pandemic threw everything into perspective and uncertainty. I am now living in the transition between one life and another perpetually, indefinitely. But I’m thankful for this year and the many ways it’s kicked my ass and I’m sure will continue to kick my ass. I believe I will always remember my 30th year as they year I had to reckon with myself. Messy and gritty and truthful and painful and empowering and vulnerable. Constantly moving and utterly still.