JOHNSTON, R.I. -- It may be a little presumptuous of me to claim I have survivor’s guilt associated with COVID-19 considering it’s an on-going crisis. None of us will know who comes out the other side until we are already there. But, I believe we have been in this long enough to appreciate other people’s lives have been ruined. Entire households have been lost to this pandemic.
So, why not me? Why not my family?
I am eternally grateful I’ve been lucky and none of my friends or family members have contracted the virus. As I write this, I take my hands off the keyboard and knock on the wood of my desk in the vain hope the universe will not repay my hubris for typing these words.
In Rhode Island, we have taken this threat seriously for the most part, since early March. Previously, it had never crossed my mind that my choice of state to live in would affect my survival during a pandemic. I’m surrounded by a community who cares about my well-being and I can confidently state I haven’t seen a maskless face in public for months.
I am also lucky that my friends and family have taken this threat seriously, too. Don’t get me wrong, I feel the same frustrations others do about not seeing the people I love when I want; but, I am so grateful to believe they are safe.
Every single day I read articles from all over the political spectrum that twist current events to their whim. Every single day I try to pry facts from opinion pieces, so writing this floods me with negative emotions associated with the stress of the news today. America has never seemed more fractured during my lifetime.
But… that’s the kicker. “During my lifetime.” A quick look at world history between 1914 and 1962 reminds us how we’ve survived hard times before.
At times like this I remember the quote, “Hard times create strong [people]. Strong [people] create good times. Good times create weak [people]. Weak [people] create hard times.”
I modified the quote from “men” to “people” to be more inclusive. Afterall, it isn’t just men who refuse sometimes to follow good advice and it surely isn’t just men who help pick up the pieces of a broken society to start the cycle over again.
No one wants to admit they might be at the tail end of that quote because we all want to believe we are strong and our struggle is paramount. However, I know my struggle is not paramount.
I read these news articles and shake my head and blame the people who I believe to be responsible…. And then I walk outside, drink my coffee and sit in the beautiful New England shade. I ruminate on the horrors of the day from a beautiful backyard next to my stunning partner. Later, I might get in the pool as she educates me on social issues of the day I might have been blind to.
We discuss life’s darkest issues from an oasis of calm.
This is where my guilt stems from. Why am I so fortunate? Was it luck that led me here or did I make the correct decisions? Sure, I can accept some credit; I chose to join the great Air Force, afterall.
However, I didn’t choose to be born to educated parents who love me. I simply got lucky. I was dealt a good hand at cards and have managed through a myriad of mistakes; yet I haven’t dramatically misplayed that hand, so far.
It was early March when America was just beginning to realize we weren’t immune to this global catastrophe and that’s when I got laid off from my job. My partner and I didn’t want to stop seeing one another, so we decided to quarantine together and she moved in.
This was right after we had read about how divorce rates were skyrocketing in China due to couples being forced to spend so much time together. Thankfully, we seem to still like one another.
It was two months later when I took stock of my life. I didn’t have a job yet, but I was fortunate enough to be laid off early and didn’t struggle with a federally boosted unemployment system. My bills were still getting paid on time.
I couldn't see my loved ones in an effort to protect them, but I was also confident they were safe. The weather was just starting to be the famously beautiful New England spring/summer weather. I couldn’t go to the beach or eat at bourgeois outdoor cafes, but I could listen to all of the life in the forest behind my house. I was counting my blessings and finding myself lucky.
I kept asking myself, “Is it ok to enjoy this unprecedented time?” and, “Is it ok to be secure financially during the ‘Second once in a lifetime economic collapse?’”
None of us knows what the future will hold. Will we as a nation push forward? I hope we learn the lessons that need to be learned. We are just as likely to fall back again without constant vigilance. Uncertainty in the future is how I know I must enjoy the blessings I have while I have them.
When the next generation interviews us for a school project about the great pandemic of 2020, how unfortunate would it be to only then realize we are telling them stories of strength, joy, patience and unity.
To only then realize our lives were good seems a tragedy. I am not telling you to hide from the truth or to ignore empathy; I am telling you that it is your responsibility to be present in the present.
The world seems to be falling apart around me and I am happy. That’s ok. It’s ok for you, too. Take happiness whenever you can and hold onto it as long as you can. The events that occur in our lives are largely forced upon us but your happiness is entirely your choice. Choose to be happy as best you can.