Words, like the virus, are circulating madly through invisible networks of exchange these days: words of conviction and certainty, anxiety and fear, blame and shame, praise and support, anger and outrage, compassion and kindness, hope and wonder, terror and grief.
Most writers take one tack or another. Some point to the injustices that the coronavirus brings into relief. Others highlight the possibilities that emerge when people work together for collective good. Some find creative ways to send uplifting messages for the future. Others look to the past, seeking someone or something to blame. Some anticipate the Apocalypse. Others see the Dawning of a New Age.
I am trying to embrace all these contradictions, and to feel it all: beauty and terror, hope and fear, love and anger, humor and horror, joy and grief. I see the best and worst of humanity, and both dread and relish what could lie ahead.
The things I am witnessing are both difficult and wonderful, both terrible and beautiful, both full of possibility and filled with tremendous pain.
They are the result of actions taken or not taken in the past, and caused by things that none of us could ever fully control. We know what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and we also know these things may not work.
The suffering is, and will continue to be, both shared and unequally distributed. The pandemic will target particularly vulnerable populations and it will hit all sectors in an inexplicable, seemingly random way. It will likely lead to creative solutions to long-standing social issues and to the deepening and hardening of existing inequities.
We already miss things we can no longer do, even as we are discovering new ways of connecting and of reinvigorating social life.
We will surely weather some aspects of the crisis with grace and strength, and fall apart at other times. We will rise to our best selves and succumb to our worst. This will be true at both an individual and collective level.
In short, there is no single, definitive narrative to tell about the coronavirus, just like life.
Except, perhaps, the ones we choose to tell, and work to make come true.
Where do we want to put our energy, our thoughts, our time? What words and ideas will we send into the ethosphere? Which ones will we breathe in, and which will we block with a metaphorical mask? Could we collectively bend the arc of the universe even just a little bit toward justice? Could we tip the balance from terror to wonder, fear to peace, anger to love?
This may be the most disconcerting and liberating lesson we can take from this time. To some degree, it’s up to us.
The coronavirus may seem like our enemy, but perhaps it is our greatest teacher – and even, despite or because of all of the contradictions it brings – our friend.