Everything Will Be Okay

Some of my neighbors participating in the nightly 8:00 p.m. applause for healthcare and frontline workers.

My dear fellow Worrier,

I’m here to tell you – my voice does not shake; firm and unbreakable is my conviction – that everything will be okay. Amid the the death count, the relentless advance of the coronavirus pandemic, and all the brewing economic uncertainty, I know that it’s hard to see how we, as a global community, will pull through. I have also wandered the desert of grief, searching for all-quenching hope; I, too, have peered into the hungry mouth of the abyss, searching for answers, however bleak they may be. Though I am just another traveler on the same road as you, I have stumbled on similar stones along my path, each of which has taught me a different lesson. That is why I can stand before you today and give you my full-throated promise that everything will be okay.

Anxiety, stress, and fear are normal and expected responses in times of crisis. Who, after all, enjoys the uncertainty caused by a microscopic enemy that assails both the mighty and the meek, the wealthy and the waif? You’ve also seen firsthand how panic often infects people before any biological threat actually does: you, too, have seen the barren shelves, the too-full carts, the runs on medicine and hand soap. Perhaps you have also witnessed the astounding speed with which alarm poisons your neighborhood, how overnight an acquaintance becomes a potential competitor for supplies. Maybe you have even jealously watched as people hoard rubbing alcohol, gloves, toilet paper, wondering if you should be doing the same.

That negativity, however normal it might be, is hard to control. But you must summon within yourself that yet untapped source of strength to do exactly that. For me, those first few days were especially difficult. My world, just like yours, was turned upside down in a matter of hours, not weeks or months. My community and city and government made the same mistake in not taking the spreading pandemic seriously until we were left scrambling to prepare because we had no other choice. After working so hard and for so many years to reach my professional goal of becoming a freelance writer and translator, my very livelihood was being threatened in ways I wouldn’t have imagined possible just a few weeks earlier. I confess to you that, on that first night of our lockdown, I felt so much despair at what was happening all around me that I sank to my knees and prayed for the first time in many years, uncertain even that the ground I was walking on would not crack and send me tumbling into the entrails of the earth.

So, of course, it’s okay to feel sad, overwhelmed, negative. Feel down, but don’t stay down. I must constantly remind myself that though I may have fallen seven times, I must get up again. Partly because I am optimistic by nature, but mostly because I have no other choice. If the news stresses you out and only makes you catastrophize everything, switch the damned television or computer off. Consume only what nourishes you. Reach out to those you love and talk about what you’re feeling. Call on the gods of your ancestors and beseech their intervention. Our burden is leaden and the path is windy, but together we will prevail. Of this, be certain. But you must keep walking.

And when it comes to perspective, consider your own situation as well. I know that you, too, are confined to your own home for at least the next few weeks, if not longer. Grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and even taking out the trash might now require careful planning to avoid any unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus. Like me, you miss your friends and walking under the rain and long Sunday brunches. The rhythm of your days has been interrupted.

But, as Marcus Aurelius is said to have declared that when one rejects the sense of injury, the injury itself disappears. Or, applied to our lives in the coronavirus pandemic: redefine your sense of loss, and it too will vanish. Do not focus on what you cannot do right now and instead think about the possibilities that this crisis has afforded you. You are not hopelessly stuck within the four walls of your house but have instead been given the opportunity to slow down and reconnect with your home and loved ones in a way that you may never again experience. You understandably fear the coronavirus and want to avoid getting sick at all costs. Now you have the chance to place your health at the forefront of your existence instead of relegating it to an unfulfilled New Year’s resolution or ignoring it at your own peril. Social distancing is hard, especially without an end date in sight, and the fact that you miss friends and family underscores how important people are to you. But though you did not ask for it, accept this gift of solitude for what it is: the time to rebuild your relationship with yourself, to rekindle the healing flames of your life’s work, to redirect your purpose toward what is meaningful and true.

These are things that are sometimes swept up by our busy social calendars, and now is your chance to remind yourself of why you’re on this planet right here and right now. Do not mourn the past, but stay in the present, and prepare the groundwork for your future. Because reunions with those we love are on the way. So be your best self here and now, and do not squander the gold of these days when that longed-for moment finally arrives. Because when this is all over and we begin to recover, so too do we begin to forget everything we may have learned. Strife is a powerful teacher, but only a temporary one.

So, how do I know that it will all be okay? How can I be sure?

Because, in one way or another, this is the only thing that has always held true for me. No matter the people that perished, the money I misspent, the jobs I lost or the illness I faced; no matter the rusted loves or rushes of anger or the countless times I’ve felt I was trapped –  I’ve always – always ­– pulled through in one way or another. Perhaps not in the way I would have liked or would have imagined, but sometimes even better than I could have possibly ever dreamed. If this is true for me, it must be true on some level for you, too.

There is wisdom in patience, in holding on to hope even when everything else seems lost. To keeping your eye on the horizon, waiting for the sun. In the meanwhile, let us take solace in our loneliness; let us be mindful of our blessings; let us recall the importance of community. Keep alive the flame of hope, my dear Worrier (or should I say Warrior), however weak it might seem; let its dance illuminate every step you take forward. Because one day, this will all be over, and everything will be okay.

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