I just spent about two hours at a grocery store, and right now I am having what I assume is a panic attack. I say “I assume” it’s a panic attack, because for some cosmic joke of a reason, one of the main symptoms of this stupid virus (chest pain, shortness of breath) just happens to also be the same things you feel when you’re having a panic attack. Add to that the coughing that comes with seasonal allergies, and the headache that comes with being hungover from having a little bit too much to drink last night, and VOILÁ! You’ve got the perfect makings of a fake coronavirus positive to create an Anxiety Feedback Loop (a term I considered I may have possibly just coined, but it turns out there are over 500,000 results on Google, so it definitely already a something), where I feel anxiety… And then that anxiety makes me wonder if I’m getting sick… And then I feel anxious about my anxiety… And on and on and on…
What a strange time this is. I used to relax at the grocery store. I’d meander. I’d stroll. It was time by myself. I’d be in no hurry. And if I WAS in a hurry, it would actually relieve stress to walk inside, hustle to get exactly the things I needed, and then be leaving within five minutes or so. It felt like an accomplishment.
Now I am acutely aware of the thought that someone else’s hands were on the cart that I am pushing. I go to the places where the things are that I need, and the shelves have been picked clean. I’m suspicious of the people around me, and I can FEEL them being suspicious of me. I wait until there is enough room to move safely by someone, and I get annoyed at people who don’t do the same for me. “Why aren’t these people taking this seriously?? THERE IS NO NEED FOR YOU TO BE THAT CLOSE TO ME!!” And all the while, I can feel my hot breath blowing back into my face, bouncing off a bandana, fogging up my glasses… Every breath reminding me that everything is different now.
But here is what I have been thinking about lately: The routine I was used to is one of the most privileged things in the world. I had a job, where I made enough money to feed my family. Within a mile or two of my house, there are multiple places for me to buy fresh food. If I needed some bathroom cleaner for my house, I would go buy some. If we were low on toilet paper, there was never a thought of, “What if they are sold out of toilet paper?” And the people I encountered along the way were never seen as a possible threat to my safety. Well… MOST of them, anyway.
Now I, along with ten million or so other Americans, am living with the new stress of not having a job, and wondering how we’re going to pay for things. I’m feeling confined and stir crazy. And unsure. And unsafe.
Listen — That feeling you’re feeling… The panic in your chest as you walk through the grocery store… The anxiety you feel as you see that you’re down to only two more rolls of toilet paper…That fear you’re feeling while watching your checking account balance go down and wondering how you are going to pay bills and buy food… For most of us, that’s a new feeling. Most of us are marinated in privilege. We are drenched in entitlement. Not having whatever we want whenever we want it is something brand new… And it’s scary. But imagine that level of fear and anxiety and panic being a way of life for you and your family. Imagine it being the norm instead of the exception.
If you really think about it, even our quarantine is laughably easy. The vast majority of us are sheltered in comfortable homes, roofs over our heads, running water, hot showers, dishwashers, refrigerators keeping our food fresh, cozy couches, big TVs where we are “forced” to binge watch entertaining shows, with internet access and wifi, and warm beds to sleep in. We’re being asked to save people’s lives by staying inside and watching Netflix. And I’m not trying to dismiss the very real distress this is causing so many… It’s just that lately I can’t help thinking about how good we have it.
Think about people huddled together downtown, sleeping on metal grates for the little bit of warmth it provides. Think of them coughing, having trouble breathing, and not knowing what to do. Think of the woman asking for change on the offramp from the highway, looking at the faces of people who are afraid to roll down their windows. There are those — before any of the chaos this pandemic has caused — who lived every day not being able to afford food for their kids… Families who depend on meals at school for their kids to get enough to eat, and food stamps for meals at home. Think of the families who were relying on those school meals to feed their kids… Families who are now skipping meals to try to save money.
And beyond our borders, think of people living in places where persecution is their way of life. Think of people living their lives in the constant fear of wars going on around them. Think of families fleeing violence and extreme poverty… Doing whatever they can to make a better life for their kids… Willing to walk hundreds of miles, with babies on their backs, just to have the CHANCE at a life where they can feel safe.
This is going to change us… We have to make sure it changes us for the better. Some folks — when it became clear that this crisis was very real — went to gun stores to buy more bullets. Some folks filled their garages with toilet paper and Clorox products. But that doesn’t have to be our reaction. We can use this experience to see the injustices all around us. It’s okay to be afraid… But we can use the fear we feel right now to remind us of those who are forced to live in fear every single day. Let that pain in your chest be the feeling of your heart expanding to love those who are feeling desperate enough to flee their homes. Let that uncertainty build an understanding and holy empathy for what it’s like to feel isolated… and alone… and unsafe. Let this affect how you vote. Fear can turn to hatred in a heartbeat. When this is over, we can allow the memory of our concern to transform into compassion for those who find themselves in situations they can’t control. Either this experience is going to grow our hearts, or it is going to shrink them. Rather than letting this normalize fear, we can let this experience expand our hearts to love our neighbors.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope this doesn’t sound preachy… As always, I’m writing this to remind myself as much as to remind anyone else. A special thank you to Pamela, who left a tip on Venmo. I can’t tell you how much stuff like that helps both practically and emotionally. If you feel like leaving a tip, you can Venmo it to “chris-boeskool” or you can leave a tip on PayPal. Otherwise, if you’d like to become a Patron, you can do that RIGHT HERE. Also, if you haven’t liked my Facebook page and you’re not following me on Twitter, you are missing out on some serious quarantine fun. I love you. We will get through this.