I write this having just made origami crane #365 to mark 1 year since the WHO declared a global Pandemic due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus. I plan on making a crane a day until the WHO announces the end of the Pandemic. Despite sloppy and inequitable initial vaccine rollouts (and global vaccination concerns) it feels like progress. I remember the last few sessions in my office, the scramble to get toilet paper, cleaning supplies and groceries for my family and my elderly parents. I remember getting a packet of school supplies for remote learning before we even knew what that would entail; and naively thinking we were just in for a few weeks of laying low at home.
By now we have all made many adjustments. I’ve seen people pivot, and make changes they might not have otherwise. Some relationships have solidified and strengthened while others have faltered and/or parted ways, or been redefined. Some people have had too much solitude, some not nearly enough. We have become familiar with the term “allostatic load” knowing that our primitive brains are in survival mode, and can only process so much under uncertain conditions. After all, we are programmed to fight, flee, freeze or fawn when faced with a threat.
We are STILL in survival mode. I suspect that as the end of this “era” becomes more certain, we will both reclaim some of our footing, and find ways to respond to the many losses. As one of my clients recently said “I think getting vaccinated allowed me to be a little more in touch with emotions about the Pandemic” (quoted with permission).
There will be celebrating the end of Pandemic and also mourning for those who are not here to celebrate with us. So many lives lost to Coronavirus. At the time of this writing 2,472,044 worldwide. And let us not forget George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery (among the many) lost to the pre-existing twin Pandemic of systemic racism and police brutality toward BIPOC in the US.
I intentionally chose a version of the traditional Japanese wave design (made famous by Hokusai, representing humans vs nature and yin and yang) for crane #365. Grief, as we know, comes in waves. Some enormous, some small, some average, and some we barely register. It is not linear. Sometimes we circle grief like seagulls against a painfully bright sky. Other times it pierces us like the gulls’ mimicking cries. And other times we have glimpses of feeling like things might just be okay although never quite the same, and with a variably sized hole in the sky and in our hearts.
I believe the mourning for our collective losses hasn’t fully begun. The job losses, too many to name here. The break-ups, as well as the peripheral friendships or regular human encounters. The postponed or scaled back weddings and funerals, the canceled proms and school sports seasons, scholarship opportunities, graduations retirements etc. And yet we humans are creative and resilient. We will remember drive by graduation and birthday celebrations, lawn balloons and socially distant performances, drive in movies and outdoor moments, rainbows on windows, appreciation, encouragement and protest signs, mutual aid funds, fundraisers, love fridges. Zoom, Tik Tok, Politics not as usual. We will remember.
I also think that though there will be joy, there may also be some anxiety around how we reconnect in person socially, including how we set limits on time spent with others, and in what settings. How will we determine our comfort level based on who is vaccinated and who isn’t yet, (or can’t be, or will opt out)? Guidelines will help.
Some of us perfectionists (and recovering perfectionists) may also feel some regrets for things left unaccomplished during this Pandemic. To that I say, we need to practice self-compassion and remind ourselves if we’re lucky enough to be here to see the end of this: we survived. We survived. That is the most valuable feat, no matter how random or inexplicable.
To live through a pandemic is an embodied experience. The masking of our faces, washing of hands, staying in, working differently (for some), communicating through screens…has changed the way our bodies move through space and time. We will need to get our bodies moving fully again and unmasking (when it’s safe to do so) is/will be a thing too. To see peoples full expressive faces and their physical presence and energy, I am so looking forward to more of that.
For many of us, the Pandemic has caused us to take stock of our lives, and to pay greater attention to the lives of others, the ways we are all connected, and the ways inequities create barriers and increase mortality rates. We can be intentional about maintaining community connections and caring for others, while working to eliminate inequities. The focus can shift to the greater good: public health and safety versus individual gains and profit margins. We can come out of this better than we were.