Relephant read: Elephant’s Continually updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon
Warning: salty language ahead.
Charles Swindoll said, “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”
I don’t really know who Chuck is, but I’ve always liked this particular quote, and I’ve thought about it a lot in the past four weeks.
Maybe God or the Universe is serving up a particularly unsavory plate of 10 percent to check us on our 90 percent? Will we sew seeds for the future, or will we say, “fuck it,” and eat the forbidden fruit (there I go getting all Biblical)?
Seriously, I worry about this quite a bit. I am in the alcoholism recovery field, and I can’t stop worrying about the millions of people (no exaggeration) who are drinking their way through the pandemic. I’ve been there, too. That’s what I did during the aftermath of 9/11, and I’m filled with regret and shame about it still today.
I get what millions are thinking: Let’s see…I can try to figure out a future with no clear path to income for which I have no strategy and no ideas—or I can open this bottle of wine and deal with it all tomorrow.
It’s not really even a hard choice, and that’s why I’m going to be awfully busy in a few weeks when the wine stops working (it always stops working, eventually).
We’ve got a decision to make that might decide the fate of the rest of our lives, and maybe that’s how God or the stars above want it. We can find inspiration or settle for justification. We can become creative or go comatose. Will we choose rebirth, or will we be resigned to drunken stupor, or some other form of surrender? I choose the former on each of those choices, because it is the only choice that can possibly include a path forward.
I went out of the house for the first time in a week on Saturday. I went out for food, but I brought home visions that knocked the optimism right out of me. I was wearing an old dust mask from my days in the whole grain bakery business that smelled like burnt wheat flour and coffee burps (I added breath mints to the grocery list). I tried to stay six feet from everyone I encountered, which required a very un-American level of courtesy, but I did my best, as did everyone around me. While on my hunting and gathering adventure, I saw groups of construction workers sitting on pickup tailgates, without face coverings, crammed so close together that they looked like the stereotypical picture of gossiping old ladies. I saw lines outside the pot shops (I live in Denver where weed is legal), and I saw people loading cars with liquor like they were preparing for the bash of the century.
I refuse to call what we are going through, “the new normal.” There is nothing normal about eliminating physical contact. Humans need hugs and handshakes and pats on the back. That’s hardwired, and there is no changing it. The question for me is, will we change our appreciation during this time of limitation? Will we learn the lesson that God, Allah, or any other higher power has in mind for us? The long-term lesson isn’t about the benefits of a lack of physical connection. The lesson is, will we appreciate physical touch the way we should.
We lost 405,000 American lives in World War II. We now face an invisible enemy that could take over a million of us if we don’t stay away from each other and do our part. We need to stay healthy, both physically and emotionally, and numb brains make bad decisions. I’m not interested in preaching about physical distancing and CDC guidelines, but I can’t help but observe how differently we are all choosing to exert our 90 percent. If God or karma has thrust this thing on us, it must be pretty interesting to sit back and watch what we do with it.
I watched the movie about Elton John called “Rocketman” this past weekend. I am a huge fan, and I loved the music, but that was mostly beside the point. The movie is about how Elton’s father refused to hug him, and his mother was a selfish twat (how very British of me to use that word). Elton became addicted to alcohol, drugs, and sex to make up for what was missing. It was as predictable a result as it was completely sad and motivating. The movie made me hug my own four kids excessively the next day. Is connection one of the lessons of this debacle of disconnection? Maybe it is. Take away the thing we need the most? Ignore the distancing guidelines at our own peril? If that’s not a kick in the kismet, I don’t know what is.
A few nights ago, I woke at 3 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. The uncertainty, trauma, death, and un-believability of it all made relaxing impossible. I rolled over against my wife. She’s a solitary sleeper, but she let me spoon her because I need the extra connection, and she knows it. As we spooned, she could feel that I would have preferred to spork. But I kept my pajama pants on and let her sleep because it seemed selfish to thrust my needs upon her. Quiet generosity seems a much more valuable lesson than greed in such an unprecedented time of global despair.
This all reminds me of the scene from the original “Star Wars“ trilogy, when Chewbacca carried around a totally dismantled C-3PO in a pack on his back. Chewy had no idea how to fix him, but he also never considered leaving him behind. I feel like Chewbacca, and the sick and financially ruined are C-3PO. I can’t fix what’s wrong in the world right now, but it’s the least I can do to try to carry a little of the burden for others, isn’t it? Isn’t that what God wants? Isn’t that my destiny?
I stopped eating and stared at my family last night at the dinner table. At one point—hell, at most points—all five of them were talking at once. Our dinner table is a loud and raucous place. On many a night, the volume and lack of consideration for each other drives me into the kitchen to, “do the dishes,” which is code for, “get the hell away from you people.” But last night, I just watched in profound appreciation for where I was and for the noise around me. I wasn’t hopelessly dismantled bouncing helplessly on a furry back. I wasn’t isolated by a twat for a mum or an emotionless father. I wasn’t escaping into a trunk full of booze, and I wasn’t waking my wife in the middle of the night to suggest intimacy destroying sex. I had it all. All I could ever want or need was talking over each other right there in front of me.
But let’s talk about how I feel and the impact the pandemic is not having on me personally so far. The divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” has existed since basically the beginning of humanity. Within the past couple of weeks, millions of “haves” have changed teams, being stripped of their uniforms and relegated to “have not-ness.” This is no joke—a huge percentage of the world population went from proudly providing for themselves and their families with careers in the service, hospitality, retail, manufacturing, and transportation industries (to name a few), to being unsure how they will continue to eat and find shelter. It is nothing short of catastrophic, but it doesn’t impact me directly. And I feel guilty because I am not currently experiencing a financial collapse.
But I have empathy, because to an extent, I have been there. My wife and I ran a small business for 15 years, and we closed it just over a year ago. “We lost our lease,” we would tell the many people who asked. The truth was, we failed. We tried everything we could think of for 15 years, scraped by barely making payroll, paying the rent, and keeping food on our own table, but “success” was elusive. When we did lose our lease, we could have moved our business down the street, but the opportunity to toil and stress and barely squeak by at a new address was less attractive than it might sound. So we closed. We swallowed our pride, which was the only thing that kept us going for many days, weeks, and months during our decade and a half in business, and we closed the doors for good declaring our failure for all to see.
I’m also an alcoholic, and I was in early recovery at the time. In the obvious ways, closing our business made staying sober harder. But my disease had an unexpected benefit, too. Addiction is ridiculously humbling. My new-found humility, and the loss of my drinking arrogance, made eating the shit sandwich of failure palatable.
So, what if there are too many businesses now? Too many restaurants and coffee shops and bars and boutiques out there limping along, taking business from each other, for any of them to thrive. With few exceptions, the vast majority of small businesses operate much like ours did—holding their collective breaths trying to make it from payroll to payroll while still buying shoes for the kids and making the mortgage payment at home. And when we keep limping along because we don’t know what else to do, we live unfulfilled lives with just a little more dull and prolonged misery than the human brain is designed to endure.
Listen, I’m a capitalist through and through. I’m not suggesting for a second that entrepreneurship is a bad thing. I’m suggesting that when people feel stuck in their struggles, the results are terrorizing. Maybe this pandemic will shake business owners and their employees into finding a different path. Humans are resilient, and what looks like devastation now might be opportunity when viewed through the light of a new day. This sentiment is Pollyannaish, and you can hate me if you’d like, but sometimes change is good—even when it looks really epically bad.
And what if this pandemic is “intentional”—are you willing to consider that? I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so I’m not suggesting it was thrust upon us as some kind of biological weapons military experiment gone horribly wrong, or fantastically right, depending on the intent. I’m suggesting that maybe this global tragedy with a death toll that will “only” reach hundreds of thousands, (if we are lucky), is divinely intended. I’m a Christian, so I’m suggesting that maybe this is the work of God, but if you do not share my faith system, that doesn’t mean you should stop reading. For you, maybe this is karma or kismet or fate or destiny. Or maybe it is the work of something astrological, or maybe Earth is just one big spherical petri dish for a superior breed of aliens. The point is, what if someone or something is trying to make a point? Haven’t you considered it—even for a second?
I’m keenly aware that I make the rambling, easily excitable, talk radio extremists sound rational, what with their theories about Chinese, or American, weaponizing of laboratory-concocted infectious disease. Maybe hear me out anyway?
God promised Noah that he’d never flood the Earth again after the animals marched two-by-two off from what had to be the smelliest boat in the history of humankind. I know I said you didn’t have to be Christian to go down this path with me, but I only know the Bible, so insert a similar story from your own belief system here. Anyway, God promised not to wipe us out again, at least not until the Apocalypse. But he didn’t promise not to perform miracles to prod us along. Maybe that’s what this is. Maybe?
If I had not yet lost you with my God talk, maybe I just sent you over the edge by suggesting this pandemic might be a miracle of sorts, complete with catastrophic pain and suffering. It is hard for me to write, and I can only imagine the patience and fortitude it takes to read this, so thanks for hanging with me this far. My guilt for considering this, and my shame for sharing it, exists on many levels.
I don’t know if any of this is God’s idea, or if this is just the fate of a connected planet that’s going to get sick sometimes. I hope I’m right that this is not the new normal, and I hope I can maintain my empathy and compassion for others while continuing to long for the hugs that just might save us all. Maybe we can learn from all of this. Maybe we can see the irony in isolation being both the cure for what ails the planet, and also the source of all of our pain and dysfunction. Maybe we can sew the seeds. Maybe God only knows.
If you’d like some support in resisting the forbidden fruit, please read my free ebook, Guide to Early Sobriety.
More Relephant Reads:
How to Enjoy Life Amidst the Coronavirus Fear: Your Go-To Guide from Books to Podcasts & Wellness Practices.
What the Coronavirus is Teaching Me: 5 Lessons from Uncertain Times.
The Artist’s Stay-at-Home & Stay Sane Guide.
10 Simple Ways to Boost your Immunity without Leaving the House.