The morning news is bad. It feeds the fear that makes me dread leaving home, on the rare occasion I am forced to go to a store to get some needed item. I have an industrial sized can of Lysol in the cupholder of my car, and I’m not afraid to use it.
It takes me way back to my childhood, which is when I first became a news junky. One of my earliest and strongest memories is falling asleep listening to CBS radio call the draft numbers every night, waiting for those that would demand my cousin, ten years older than me, take up arms and head to Vietnam. Those same nights, before the numbers droned me to sleep, I would get out of bed and crack my bedroom door open just enough to watch the news, with its vivid and horrifying newsreels (maybe more so because they were in black and white) of the war in real-time.
It seems that, of late, nearly every single person I know, including all of my fourth-grade students, has joined the news junky set during this latest vivid and horrifying time.
Ugliness assaults us every time we hit the power button. There is no escape- it’s on your phone, it’s on your laptop, it’s on your TV. “Breaking News” is constant, featuring politicians, police chiefs, scientists, doctors and big business men (I have yet to see any female CEO’s asked to comment) who solemnly and grimly state the statistics of the hour. And it’s all bad. The amazing acts of kindness and heroism we see occasionally do not begin to soften the horror.
As I read people’s reactions on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, as I FaceTime friends and family, as I field emails and text messages from students, their parents and my colleagues, I feel a growing sense of the effect this worldwide virus is having on everyone. It appears that this event has, in very short time, permanently changed how many of us see the world and our role in it. A generation of human beings are suddenly feeling lost. The trajectories their lives were on, created either by intense planning or lack thereof, have been suddenly derailed by forces outside their control.
It is the first time since September 11, 2001, that the world is rocked. And one major difference is that 9/11 occurred in one corner of the planet, while this virus is everywhere. This is our World War II, our Great Depression, our meteor that blocked out the sun. For the first time, many of us realize that the fabric of our lives can, in a flash so fast it is almost too hard to wrap your head around, just rip. Into shreds. The fact that no one can tell when we will come through to the other side (for those of us fortunate enough to do so) makes it that much more unsettling.
A few brave souls are creating videos with reworked song lyrics to lighten the mood. Memes that show just how crazy-pants everyone is feeling are all over the internet, and many do produce a small chuckle which escapes us in spite of ourselves. We cling to the connections we have in our lives on screens. We zoom birthday parties and exercise classes, FaceTime happy hours and grandchildren, and WhatsApp our friends and relatives in far-off places. Even those of us who enjoy our own company are missing the face-to-face interactions that are currently not an option. We are socially isolated while enduring this collective nightmare; and that is challenging for a species that thrives on the give-and-take that helps each of us define ourselves.
I keep hearing the phrase “the new normal” and it is making me feel some aggravation. This is a temporary state of affairs. The true new normal will be what people make of it once this is over. When we can come blinking and blinded out of the darkness and back into the light of day, what will we do? Can some of us just get back on our train and continue as if not much happened? Will many of us, during this unexpected recess from our lives, take time to reassess our values, our career paths, our family time? Will broken and damaged relationships be repaired upon the realization that we may not, in fact, have all the time in the world to let it happen eventually or not at all? Time will tell.
It is my hope (and my unwavering, although at times unjustified, belief) that we will emerge from this kinder, gentler, stronger and more resilient. Many people have not been tested in any truly significant, deep and profound way before. Here’s hoping that our wounds heal, our scars eventually fade, and we take away important, inspirational lessons to heart.
All I can say is: hang in there, people. This too shall pass. I cannot wait to see you, and give you a hug!