COVID-19 rainbow Montreal

Jacques Cartier Bridge Montreal

The way we react to COVID-19 will define the rest of our lives

This is a consequential moment. We can choose to be better, or we can choose otherwise.

I was living in Southern California when Donald Trump was elected. I want to say it was surreal, but it really wasn’t. If there is a way to fuck up an extremely consequential thing, America will find it more often than not. It is their great gift. 

My ex, an American, was despondent that night. She cried three separate times, big heaving sobs I tried to fix but couldn’t. When she was nodding off, I was on the phone with a friend in Montreal. It was past 4 a.m. for him, but neither of us was that interested in sleeping. We both knew the largeness of the moment; we both knew that it portended catastrophe.

Recently, that same friend and I sat a respectable distance from each other in Parc La Fontaine and drank beer while pretending we weren’t cold. He hadn’t left his house in days; I hadn’t talked to a real live human who wasn’t a grocery store cashier in days. 

I remembered our late night conversation in 2016, and realized, possibly for the first time, that our current moment feels similar. And then I remembered something else: the conversations I had with fellow lefties in the days following the election. Alongside the shock and disappointment was a certain resoluteness that was inspiring and contagious, and so with quiet voices we whispered into each others’ ears, “take as much time as you need to process this, but when you’re done roll up your sleeves — it’s time to get to fucking work.”

We are currently living in the middle of a consequential moment. World Wars aside, people generally don’t get to know they’re experiencing something truly historical while it’s happening, but that’s the situation here. As long as there are people, people are going to talk about this. As the old curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.”

Accordingly, the way we react to this — as individuals, as communities, as cities, etc — will define more than people think. It may well define the rest of our lives. And, so, we all have a choice to make, a line in the sand to draw if only with respect to how we are going to be people in this world at this time with this thing hanging over us. Everything that grows globally starts locally.

We can choose to be better, or we can choose otherwise. 

We can band together (figuratively) and distance ourselves from each other (literally) and, in so doing, we can help stop a pandemic. We can do the right thing for ourselves and for each other. Or we can not. 

We can be a comfort to our loved ones in this time of extreme uncertainty and confused panic, or we can not. We can make time and hold space for each other’s uncertainties, confusion, and panic, and be better partners, family members, friends, colleagues and citizens, or we can not. We can use this incredibly fucked up period of time to invest in ourselves, our relationships and in our communities. We can be more open, honest and transparent. We can take the time that has been afforded us (against our will) to finally try that thing, learn that skill, say “I love you” to that person and “I’m sorry” to that other person. 

We can choose to be better, or we can choose otherwise. The second choice isn’t necessarily a choice to be worse, but it may as well be. Resignation isn’t really resignation, it’s a half-hearted shrug; apathy isn’t really apathy, it’s the decision to not care. 

Someone recently told me that things always happen as they’re supposed to, and that if they could happen a different way, they would. I largely agree, but not in a fatalistic way. I agree because we are the sum total of all of our efforts and decisions. Everyone reading this knows that doing a good thing feels good, and that learning a new thing feels like fucking victory. And, so, I hope that insofar as we can — because unemployment and financial strain and anxiety and illness and dyspraxia are things that exist — we all consciously make the choice to be better or at least try. If only a little bit and if only a little bit more often. 

We are indeed living in interesting times, but they’re also fucked up six ways from Sunday. No one knows what’s coming next, and you can bet your boots that the people who gain from this kind of cataclysm are shrieking with glee. Boy howdy would I like to disappoint them by not giving away the store.

I can’t say that any of this is worth the time you’ve spent reading it, but, since you’ve gotten this far, I hope you’ll join me in taking as much time as you need to process this. It’s a lot, so it won’t come easily. And, when you’re done, I hope you’ll roll up your sleeves and try. There’s work to do. ■

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