Lessons Learned In the Days of the Pandemic

by Fernando Perfas

We are in the third phase of re-opening in New York City and there is no certainty how and when things will return to “normal.” The word normal has gone out of fashion in a world this pandemic has turned upside down. We have to get used to the “new normal.” How that may look is still subject to speculations and debates. New terminologies have emerged which dominate the language in news and everyday life. They are mantras we hear again and again in these days of the pandemic, words and phrases such as lockdowns, social distancing, PPEs, face masks, hand sanitizers, underlying medical conditions, testing, anti-bodies, asymptomatic, dwindling food supplies, seem to define our daily lives nowadays.

“Lessons learned,” a favorite phrase by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in his daily Covid press conference, is a preamble to his list of silver linings in an otherwise grim face of reality. We have to dig deeper, look harder to shore up faith and hope that have been shattered by a mass life-changing experience that is hard to escape. What have we learned? The biggest takeaway is the fact about our mutuality that we really are in this together. This could have not been made clearer by the most mundane thing as wearing a protective mask in public. I wear a mask because I care not only about my health but also people close to me, as well as strangers. This simple act forces me to be less selfish and to think of the welfare of others. By this we have understood what it means to think in terms of “community,” that a single misstep that leads to contracting and transmitting the virus to others could have tremendous repercussions to one’s self and beyond one’s circle of people. It calls for greater self-awareness and awareness of our social environment.

” ..I care not only about my health but also people close to me, as well as strangers. This simple act forces me to be less selfish and to think of the welfare of others. By this we have understood what it means to think in terms of “community,” …”

The practice of “social distancing” is so unnatural that my social brain finds it revolting. It is particularly ironic that a time like now when we need most to connect with others and find solace in a warm embrace and a reassuring hug, we feel deprived from doing so. The very sick from Covid die alone, unable to say and receive goodbyes from loved ones. What could be more heart-breaking than that? Though it adds pathos to what is already a tragic situation, we have little choice but practice it to curve the virus spread. And in a twist of circumstances for some, staying home with someone with little else to do could either fray or strengthen a relationship.

Often the situation brings into focus the fault lines in our relationships that have been left simmering and now confronting us with a sense of urgency for a resolution. While others find the sudden imposed intimacy a welcome opportunity to discover wonderful hidden facets in one’s relationships, it is a curse for some who finally confront the challenges in relationships. Whatever the situation we find ourselves, it is undeniable that the pandemic has exposed cracks in some of our cherished beliefs. It has exposed social inequity and laid bare society’s denials. The unpredictability of the virus’ behavior has added to the feeling of uncertainty and opened our eyes that our sense of security and personal control are nothing but an illusion.

“Hopefully, we have grown more thoughtful of others and our social and personal awareness deeper than before. The possibility of personal loss has become very real and we can readily relate with such experience while dealing with a common threat.”

No amount of denial and distraction has the rabid nature of the virus forced us to confront our mortality. The anxiety this reckoning stirred inside us has moved us to close the physical distance between us and our loved ones. Hopefully, we have grown more thoughtful of others and our social and personal awareness deeper than before. The possibility of personal loss has become very real and we can readily relate with such experience while dealing with a common threat.

Finally, the pandemic has reinforced the old wisdom of good leadership as key to rallying the public to buy-in to a policy that calls for personal sacrifices and cooperation to deal with a crisis. New York State which has 19 million people has imposed a strict lockdown on public life and business activities to contain the spread of the virus, and it has required people to wear masks in public places. Who would imagine that New Yorkers will comply with only little whimpers with such draconian policy?

It is reasonable information based on facts with much regard for the life and well-being of people over economic and political considerations that carry the day. It hinges on the belief that material things lost can be regained but not the loss of life. It is a call for a unity of purpose to confront an invisible and vicious enemy. It is the undeniable connectedness of people as a community that triumphs over impulses for individuality and personal freedom in the face of a dire situation.

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