Part 4: After COVID, Then What?
We are going through some truly “hard times.”
Mental and emotional stress is at epidemic proportions. Domestic violence is increasing as is the number of women murdered by their partners. We’re sleeping less, drinking more. Suicides are increasing. Young people, especially teen girls, are self-harming more. Distress hotlines are busier than ever. Xenophobia is rearing its ugly head.
We are under unmeasureable emotional and mental stress and not just because of the fear of catching the virus. There are rents and mortgages and bills to pay but no income; families to feed but no income; fear for our parents and grandparents in long-term care homes; the pain of not being with loved ones in their last days; and, for those who have to go to work, the fear of contracting COVID.
It may be difficult to believe when we are up to our ears in pandemic woes that we will endure, as did our ancestors. But endure we will, so what about the future? What will the world be like post-COVID? How will we be, post-COVID?
As I peer into my crystal ball, I see . . . only questions:
When can I hug my grandchildren?
When can I go to the baseball game? The hockey game? The football game?
When can my kids play with the neighbour’s kids?
When can we have our family reunion?
When can I go shopping at the mall with my friends? Have a beer with my buddies?
When will this end?
Will they find a cure? A vaccine?
When can I go back to work?
Perhaps we can glean some answers by a glance back at the past. How well did people recover from stress and deprivation when previous “hard times” ended?
There were both good and bad outcomes. The Spanish Flu did come to an end, although it took two years to disappear. Children who survived achieved lower levels of education and employment as adults. However, the epidemic fostered awareness of the importance of public health and spurred Canadian and European governments to create national health departments.
Perhaps one of the reasons the 1920s “roared,” at least for some people, was because people wanted to “actively forget” (as Nietzsche put it) the pain, suffering and horrors of both World War I and the Spanish Flu. It has often been called the Forgotten Pandemic – people seemed to have put it out of their minds so they could live fully in the present. And they went overboard in doing so.
Will COVID-19 also become a “forgotten pandemic?” Will we have a 21st century version of the Roaring Twenties, when the economy booms?
The Great Depression/Dirty Thirties ended in 1939 but the effects on those who lived through those hard times lingered on. I saw them in my own grandparents and parents. Grandma Hanna refused to pay a penny more than necessary for whatever she had to buy. My father kept every bit of broken machinery because, well, it just might be useful some day.
But the depression also brought about change. Communities formed credit unions when banks refused to loan money to struggling farmers and business owners. In the prairies, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (later the New Democratic Party) and the Social Credit Party formed, each espousing a different approach to solving the economic woes of the Depression.
The SARS epidemic of 2003 also ended, even in the absence of a vaccine. However, it left about one-third of those quarantined with depression and PTSD. The rates were higher among those who tended the sick. Patients felt alone, even de-humanized. Alcohol use increased. But even so, most people showed tremendous resiliency and lived happy and fulfilling lives afterwards. And the medical profession learned many lessons about how to deal with a highly contagious disease, lessons that are relevant to today’s pandemic.
Those questions I asked earlier – they are primarily about being deprived of social contact. Being separated from family and friends is compounding economic stress. Our ancestors endured not just because of rationing or gardening or relief, although those were important. They endured because they were part of community. They had a support network of family, friends and neighbours. They met at grocery stores, the post office, the hardware store, the café, the church. They laughed together, cried together and shared what little they had.
Physical distancing denies us those essential support networks. We crave community. We crave a real shoulder to cry on or a real hug. Social media and virtual visits don’t provide the same emotional security and consolation that comes with physical contact.
In spite of how it feels, we are not alone. We are still part of community. We care for others and others care for us – witness the million little acts of kindness that happen everywhere, every day.
Think of the pandemic as a refining fire. It will change us, some more than others, some in different ways than others. That doesn’t mean it will defeat us.
It seems to boil down to this: Our future will be largely determined by what we dream it to be, and that in turn depends on our attitude to life in general. Are we glass-half-empty or glass-half-full people?
My vision of post-COVID life is this: One day, we will be back to work, bringing in an income, and ensuring security for ourselves and our families. One day, we will be able to hug each other. One day, we will be able to have a beer with our neighbours on the deck. One day, we can hang out with our buddies at the beach. That day will include a continuation of the kindness and generosity that has helped us get through these hard times.
Who knows how or when this pandemic will end, but it will. Hang in there, folks. We are more resilient than we imagine. Be kind to each other. Live in hope and faith.
Here’s a challenge for you: Write an obituary for COVID-19. How does what you have written reflect your vision of a post-COVID world?
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