I was busy relegating 2022 to the dustbin of history with a clear excess of pleasure. My focus was on the emergence of 2023. Enough with the Covid Cave and the deconstruction of everything and the befuddlement seeping through humans, families, communities…nations. I was returning to my preferred focus: Wisdom Work. And promptly was infected with the trickiest of viruses.
Sobered, I returned to my space of personal stillness, to the seat of consciousness which always keeps me honest. Playing pretend about the “end of Covid” was a non-starter. Not only is Covid part of our shared global past. It is also part of our shared global future. Slowly I began to realize, then accept that my Wisdom Work actually was to be influenced, even shaped by my exploration of these niggling Covid mystery experiences revealing themselves to me with irritating clarity. Whoops!
The reality is that huge energy shifts occurred during the last three years and often we are dedicating our time and energy to trying to ignore these shifts, to quickly move to the coffee shop that re-opened or the garden nursery that seems to have sort of survived the times and now sells plants I like. I actually have a familiar old song playing in my head during these surges of escapism: “Let’s play pretend…” Whoops!
But why must we contend with this, follow this path? Decades as a psychiatric nurse leave me with mental maps I cannot ignore. The successful suppression of that which is unwanted does not make it go away. Indeed, it can spread, intensify, morph, and turn into something quite destructive. The dramatic increases we are witnessing in suicides, mass shootings, mental disorders in the young, disturbed employment patterns and corporate practices…these are merely a sampling… say something is amiss. And like everyone else, I would like to pretend it away, turn my gaze elsewhere, change the subject. Whoops!
Reflecting on all of this, I have settled on a metaphor that serves me well. When we humans have experiences that we cannot immediately manage or evade, we store them. I think Covid was so unusual that our usual storage mechanisms seemed inadequate. It looks to me like most of us created a special storage bin especially for Covid experiences. From what I can gather, almost no one seems to have lifted the secured lid, opened the bin, and started the hard work of seeing what is stored in there, deciding what to do about it. And increasingly, I think we are going to need to do something about both our individual and collective storage issues.
Writing all this actually makes me nervous, like I am inviting people to run for the hills or send me hostile little messages about letting “sleeping dogs lie” or some other repression preference. Nonetheless, I think there is an urgency in this issue of bin opening and sorting and deciding and acting. The suppression option is not going all that well.
I have been thinking about all this sort of non-stop, in part because it seems so obvious. To make the message clearer, I am going to provide a few examples of what I find in my Covid Experience Storage Container (CESC). I believe most of my examples focus on things I think others are also storing. I do not pretend to have resolved them, only to find them staring at me when I look into my CESC.
EXAMPLE 1: During the lockdown, we began as a nation to identify what we called “Essential Workers”. They were often people who, until then, we had least highlighted, respected, appreciated or financially rewarded. For a short period of time, they were “wonderful people” like grocers and first responders and garbage collectors and truck drivers. We raved about them; we praised them; we needed them to keep doing their job for the rest of us locked up in our Covid Caves.
Then, abruptly, we could exit our caves, and suddenly these highly valued “Essential Workers” were again invisible and of limited worth. Any person who was one of the “Essential Workers”, it seems to me, may have felt in the end not valued but exploited. Were they heroes or cannon fodder in our combat with a mystery virus?
EXAMPLE 2: Today’s reported number of US deaths due to Covid is 1,132,132. We actually know it probably is more. And almost all of these deaths concluded without funerals, rituals of departure, grieving, shared family stages of loss. We all watched news reports of a nurse holding up a tablet so family members could say “Good-Bye” to their loved one about to die from Covid. It began to be reported as somewhat “Normal”.
We don’t really know what happened to those families, how they processed the experience, what they did to grieve, where the cemetery plots are, whether there was a burial or cremation, when and where, what the memorials or tombstones say. As a nation, this experience occurred for at least one million persons and their loved ones. We have made no effort to figure out how the nurse holding the tablet “yet again” is faring, living with this health care aberration. Something happened to our obituary pattern during the last three years; it is not clear to me that anyone knows what that is. Is death different now?
EXAMPLE 3: This example has a personal undertow. My daughter and her significant other, both critical care pulmonologists at the University of Washington, provided direct care to Covid patients. Because she plays multiple leadership roles, my daughter’s care provision was less intensive, yet part of her workload. Her partner is a brilliant physician and exquisite care provider. He provided a substantial amount of Covid care early on, in Seattle, before we knew what we were dealing with. Yet he did so diligently and compassionately.
Concurrently, there were repeated press reports of people refusing to wear masks, and later to get vaccinated. There were large group gatherings that were super spreaders. The press often opted to give these people precious air time as they declared their “freedom” from government intrusion. On one hand there were providers risking their lives to provide care to Covid patients, on the other hand people defiantly ignoring measures to decrease spread of the disease. I think it is self-evident, but when these defiant people actually contracted the disease, they of course went to the providers to be “saved”, the same providers who were risking their disrupted lives daily. I can tell even writing this that my rage is still in the container, and I use the word “rage” consciously.
EXAMPLE 4: Somewhere early in the effort to understand Covid, data emerged that said most persons who died were the elderly and minorities. This seemed to create the conditions for some groups, communities, even states to conclude that the people dying of the disease were of limited value, so compromising the economy of an industry, community or state to save these “less valuable” lives was not necessary or even acceptable. Deaths would happen, but profits must be protected. This was not widespread as a phenomenon, but it did occur. It has seemed to me no one wants to say out loud that this was the case. The implications for the souls involved warrant reflection. I am personally haunted by this one. Have we a subtle emergent cultural conviction that marginalized people, if they are not “essential” during a pandemic, are expendable? Did we move from subtle practices to overt policy?
So, there you have it, some of the personal contents in my CESC. It seems obvious to me that bringing these out into daylight has consequences though I do not pretend to know what they are. And I realize I have merely drained off a bit of what is a much more robust CESC content inventory. I do think the CESC Revelation Challenge is upon us, however, and I am curious to see how we will proceed. I personally plan on cheering on every human with the courage and honesty to take on the CESC Revelation Challenge. It is a community service of the highest order. And intuitively, I anticipate silencing rather than praise and admiration. I also think we may not be able to move on until a critical mass of humans manage to take on the Challenge. Pandemics appear to be part of the “New Normal”; this may not be the last time we are asked to embrace this challenge.
“It is of no use to pretend that something is not what it clearly is; to live in denial is to live with a suspended sentence hovering over one’s head.”
- Quintus Curtius -
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