Covid-19: Just Another Disruption?
by Kate Seidman
“Have you visited China in the last two weeks?”
I was in line at the departure gate at Gatwick Airport for my flight back to Boston. It was late January, and news of a virus in China had led many international airports to start some basic screening. There had been news of someone in Boston getting sick after returning from Wuhan, so I was a little nervous getting on the plane.
At the entrance to the departure lounge, each passenger was asked about recent travel to China. If someone from China wanted to get to Boston, I thought, they could just lie, but the person in front of me said that, yes, he had been in China three weeks ago. He got on the plane.
Now, in early June, so much has changed. How quaint were those early days when the only check was a verbal one and many thought the virus wouldn’t spread beyond its origins in China. Could we have imagined that, by now, there would be over 100,000 Americans dead from Covid-19 and the economy would be in shambles? Or that our lives would revolve around working from home, Zoom, grocery shopping exclusively online, social distancing, and face masks? We have been forced to “shelter in place” not for a day or two, as some of us did during the Boston Massacre, or weeks, as we did during a blizzard, but for months–and with no clear end in sight.
As we start to dip our toes back into the world, I find myself wondering how to make sense of what has changed and what may be laying ahead. Will we be able to return to normal, or will our lives never be the same? What can we learn from other disruptive events?
Are we like the survivors of a war trying to rebuild shattered lives and homes? Yes, we have lost too many lives. And we have lost our sense of feeling safe and secure in the world. But now, the danger comes not from bombs or artillery but from each other. Who might have the virus and not know it? How close can I come to that stranger or even my friend or relative? Who can I trust?
But the buildings are still standing. The communication, transportation, and other infrastructures have remained functional as have most businesses and institutions. Retail businesses are only waiting for people to emerge so they can start up again. Going forward, it is not the physical structures that need to be rebuilt but the personal, social, and political structures that hold our world together in invisible ways that make us feel safe and secure.
After every disaster, there is a period of cleanup which can last months. Now the cleanup drags on, exhausting the doctors, nurses, and others who are on the front lines. If the virus lingers, how do we build continuity and resilience to prevent breakdowns for those tasked with caring for the sick, the poor, the homeless? How do we reduce the demands and stress on teachers, parents, and others who are responsible for educating our children and grandchildren? We need more than just cleanup. We need long-term planning to train and rotate multiple waves of educators and front line workers as the first group rests. We need to protect those who heal, educate, and support us. We need to show them our appreciation and gratitude.
After wars and other major disruptions, the world did not return to the way it was. Some losses never healed. Some organizations never came back. Some people never recovered. And some suffered long-term physical and mental problems. We have already witnessed social, political, and economic fallout that could last for years. As we contemplate our lives going forward, we have to consider that we won’t ever go back to the way things were.
If the past few months have taught us anything, it is that we are responsible not just for ourselves but for those around us. We limit grocery shopping to protect not only us but the people working in the stores. We wear masks and practice social distancing not only for our own safety but so that we don’t spread the disease to others. These actions are part of living in a community where we have mutual responsibility for each other. When we trust and respect others by demonstrating kindness and compassion, we start to build the social structures from which strength, determination, and resiliency can grow.
We are fortunate, at BOLLI, to be part of a thriving learning community, even though remote. It’s a good start.
When Kate joined BOLLI 5 years ago, she put aside a lifetime of research into people and technology to take classes in History, Music, Art, and Writing. She also knits. After 40 years as a foreigner, she still doesn’t understand America.