The other day, driving by a school, I saw dozens of black garbage bags labelled and spaced out on the concrete by the front doors. I knew they were full of kids’ belongings, waiting in the cold for their turn to be picked up and taken home. The wrongness of the image, fleeting as it was, squeezed my chest so painfully tight. I continued driving, panic and grief rising in my throat.
This is really hard, guys. I don’t know if the COVID crisis and social distancing has brought everyone to their knees, beyond those in the severely affected nations, but my knees are getting sore down here.
I usually don’t compare myself to other Instagrammers and envy their lives. But right now… Man. I see singles and couples reading, relaxing, and getting their checklists done. I see moms baking, doing art projects, and enjoying games with their older kids. I see families in large houses, country homes, and warm climates lounging and playing. I see people being bored; what a gift. I know that it’s only a snapshot, but it’s much prettier than any snapshot I could even fake. Right now, cleaning my house is like that video of a guy shovelling snow into a grocery cart. Instead of getting anything done, I’m falling further behind on my to-do list. My hair is almost constantly tied up in a frizzy knot and my makeup is rubbed off in exhaustion by 1 pm everyday. And Saturday… Saturday I got a hickey dead centre on my forehead from leaving a toy suctioned to it for too long.
There’s been a lot of encouragement, including from me, to use this mandatory change of pace to take care of ourselves, be creative, and cherish relationships. The moral has been gratitude and finding the gold in the grime. It was all beautiful and inspiring at first. But now—after settling a bit into this off-centre, thorny life—now it’s starting to grate. Beyond the fact(s) that my young and higher-than-average-needs children require full supervision at all times; my family is long-distance or, worse, social-distanced five minutes away; my husband’s job is considered an essential service; my work has become even more demanding as we pivot hard to facilitate online learning; and my studies have been unceremoniously put on hold… Aside from all those things that make me want to kick and scream like my tantruming two-year-old… I keep thinking about the people for whom that earlier sentiment—gratitude and gold—is completely irrelevant and, maybe, insensitive.
My heart is aching for the kids whose homes aren’t safe and whose safe places—their schools, leaders, and friends—are inaccessible. I worry about those who are hidden inside unstable, or downright dangerous, families. I feel anxious when I think of single parents and low-income families who have no cushion, be it time or money, for this crisis. I’m overwhelmed when I consider our political and spiritual leaders, medical community, essential service staff, and emergency personnel who carry all of this for us. I literally tear up when I imagine what the world looks like for our grands; in order to protect them we’ve taken away what, to many of them, is more precious than life. I frequently find myself wondering about individuals who were already isolated and are now even more so, at a time when we most need community. What about people facing giants like homelessness, chronic pain, mental illness, estrangement, and health conditions that make them especially vulnerable right now? What about my kids’ parents who can’t see them because all face-to-face contact is cancelled—because that doesn’t make this worse for them at all. For a lot of people, the consequences and the implications of what’s going in the world right now are much, much more than most of us have to consider. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever been more conscious of the innate privilege in my community as I am now.
I know, I know. Right about now the bricks of your defences are stacking up real quick because we all hate that word: privilege. It’s become an accusation. It’s not, of course. It’s an acknowledgment of unearned and unasked for—but, nevertheless, given—rights, benefits, and exemptions. Here’s the thing: just because I didn’t earn or ask for privileges doesn’t mean I don’t have them. It’s a fact; I have advantages that others do not. It’s not a fault that I’m privileged. It’s a fault to deny that I am.
So, I’m going to say that again: I don’t know that I’ve ever been more conscious of the innate privilege in my community as I am now. This is a time in history—we are actually in a developing history text right now—when our basic needs, like food, shelter, water, and safety, are among the only things we can have, and even those are at risk. For many people, those basics aren’t even close to assured. Climbing up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most of us have connections that facilitate being known, feeling seen, caring for another being; y’know, relationships, love. We may have to use technology to remind ourselves of it, but it’s still there. Healthy relationships and love are also not a given for many on the edges of our communities. Maybe the experience of limited access to these gifts for all of us will help us to see the gap in privilege. But that’ll probably only happen if we recognize that if/when things go back to “normal,” we’ll go back to simply having all of those things. They, pardon the grouping language, won’t.
But, privileged or not, to all of us for whom this situation has definitively not been restful, productive, or even boring: I’m with you. This sucks. What we’re going through is comparable to wartime conditions; I’m not making that comparison flippantly or with my own judgment, by the way. This is our generation’s thing. It’s okay to be overwhelmed, scared, sad, angry, worried, annoyed, depressed, exhausted, and at your freaking wit’s end. It’s okay not to be positive, intentional, gracious, mindful, joyful, peaceful, and thankful every moment of this experience. It’s okay not to feel full of anything! Because this is a lot. This thing that’s happening in our world is a big freaking deal. This is hard. Give yourself permission to sit on the floor and cry, to forgive yourself for yelling at your kid or your spouse, to take five extra minutes in an extra hot shower, and to eat the damn donut. I want to give you permission because I need permission. I don’t know how to be okay with the fact that I’m in a crappy situation, there’s no way out right now, and it’s okay not to like it. It’s okay not to be okay. There’s plenty of time for positive spins and silver linings. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be up for them. But it’s okay if I don’t want a spin of silver today.
Last week I asked what would happen if we let COVID-19 and social distancing pick us up by our ankles like an old school bully and shake the crap out of us—I think I was slightly more eloquent about it then. Well, now I have some idea what would happen, what is happening. We’re losing things that we value, things we were holding onto. Whether the things we’re losing are objectively good or bad isn’t relevant; what’s important is that they matter to us. We were never meant to be hung upside down and it’s taking its toll. The blood is rushing to our heads, our ankles are getting bruised, and it freaking hurts. We may be, I pray we’ll be, better at the bitter end of this, but the process is painful.
I know that God is good. I know that glorious green will grow from this really tilled soil. I know that he’s up to something brilliant. He’s stubbornly committed to transformation and he’s really good at it. But transformation isn’t a comfortable process. I’m extremely uncomfortable. And that’s okay.