COVID-19: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. A Tale of Two Cities

Pandemic

Within 3 months COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic and thrown the world into crisis. We have gone from the “best of times” to the “worst of times” without warning. 

All of our certainties and business as usual mindsets have been disrupted. 

None of us really have any actual experience in dealing with a potential catastrophe this large that affects the whole world almost at once.

There are no real best practice, tried and true recommendations. Not really. We have bits and pieces of the puzzle. We have science and statistics – epidemiological and economic projections. We have experience of recent SARS and swine flu outbreaks. 

However, certainly for swine flu, for the most part, the world carried on as usual. We had a treatment for it. We quarantined some sick people (I know my family was one of them). But we didn’t shut schools, ban international travel – and entire health systems were not overwhelmed to the point of breaking.

So for the most part we are flying blind here – we have a new virus that responds differently to flu. We have emerging epidemiological and economic facts. But we have no guaranteed way to keep the world as it was a few weeks ago.

We have (in developed world) taken access to healthcare as a right – available on demand. We have taken for granted our ability to go to the shops whenever we want to find it stocked with a myriad of foods and toilet paper choices. Many of us have taken for granted our exercise classes, our coffee dates. And we have certainly taken for granted our ability to earn a livelihood in the way of our choosing. We have taken for granted our ability to turn on the TV and watch a sport game – or turn up to one in person. 

Suddenly all of that is threatened and it is unsettling for everybody – for politicians, CEOs, small business owners, employees, retirees, the unemployed – people of all types.

We are all vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 in one way or another. Directly via illness and potentially death, inability to access health care for other issues, social isolation, risk of domestic violence, lack of access to food and other necessities, economic hardship. 

Nobody is immune from this total world shake up. 

We are all in this together. And we must work to finding a solution together – each person contributing their skill and expertise in a different way to get through this. 

And YES, we do need to follow public health directives even if we have doubts. It is so easy to criticise the actions and decisions of others – politicians, health professionals – anyone really. And every criticism has some truth in it – because in this situation there is no perfect answer that will meet all competing needs. 

Who amongst us is wise enough to navigate competing health and economic needs – not of a city or a country – but a whole world?

No human, or even collection of humans can do this. That is the responsibility of a Higher and omniscient being. 

We are not that. We are not omniscient no matter how much human knowledge we acquire.

So how should we respond emotionally?

This is the thousand, or million, or billion dollar question – where there are no answers only choices. And we do have to choose – we have to choose where on the spectrum of polarities we lie. For example: 

  • We have to choose between despair and hope. 
  • We have to choose between self-reliance and working together with community.
  • We have to choose between arrogance and humility in responding to directives.
  • We have to choose whether to hoard or to share.
  • We have to choose whether to focus on lack or find gratitude for what we have.
  • We have to choose whether to focus on problems or solutions. 

Certainly for myself – as I have been living the emotional cascade of our suddenly new reality – I’ve swung through all the polarities I’ve listed above. 

In my own way, I’ve hit rock bottom, then had to decide what is the most useful and constructive way to get through this. And it is clear at least in my eyes, we need to maintain hope, keep focused on solutions, help and support each other, and reconnect to “God as we understand Him” in order to get through this with humanity.

And you’re right – there is a lot reminsicent of the AA 12 steps here that I think can guide us through this crisis.

Perhaps it’s premature, and we are not as a society at rock-bottom just yet. Perhaps a cure or an unthought of solution is just around the corner. I hope so.

Nevertheless, perhaps in the meantime we can meditate on the 12 principles as reduced to a single word.*

  1. Honesty
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Truth
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Accountability
  9. Justice
  10. Integrity
  11. God consciousness
  12. Service

Whatever happens, as well as washing our hands, maintaining social distancing and other protective measure, we also need to think seriously about which of these 12 principles (or virtues) we can help strengthen (in ourselves and others).

It might not stop the virus, but it can help stop anxiety and panic and promote kindness and community mindedness. In displaying the best of our humanity, in some small way perhaps we can play a part in help turn the worst of times into the best of times.

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