Members of the Florida National Guard (FLNG) gather with local hospital staff to collaborate on donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE) during Task Force – Medicals’ response to the COVID-19 virus, March 17, 2020. The FLNG is mobilizing up to 500 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen in support of the Florida Department of Health response in Broward County. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Leia Tascarini)
There is a sudden aversion most of us feel when we hear the words “crisis” or “change.” None of us are wired to take a pleasant walk in the dark while our eyes are blindfolded, and the ways we respond when we are faced with these concepts are varied and progress over time.
In the beginning of March, before the virus took over our daily lives and turned our world upside down, there was among friends and family a common sense of camaraderie while sharing memes, poking fun at the increasing mentions of the epidemic – later pandemic – in other people’s feeds; people who perhaps were taking it a bit more seriously than surely it deserved. There is a sense of superiority in calmness. We elevate ourselves over a problem when we can make fun of it and of those who express their concerns about it.
Then, major events began getting cancelled, and that one started to hurt. “What do you mean there will be no parade?”, “Aww man! I had been looking forward to that concert all year.” Still, it seemed difficult to believe that these measures, which were now coming directly from government officials, were so necessary. Especially when, from the very top of leadership, the disease had been erroneously compared to the flu, which isn’t characterized by making people cautious of going outside.
And so came anger. Now those who had brushed covid-19 off as yet another attempt from the media to make us fall for their clickbait, were looking for somebody to point fingers at, and listing all the solutions that were not going to work. Socialism came up a few times, since it is so in vogue as of late. However, even if reluctantly, they began to hear expert after expert talk, all while vigorously washing their hands.
Finally, calls for cooperation replaced poorly-made memes. Complaining was exchanged with pleas to heed the advice of authorities. Everyone found themselves reading story after story of friends or relatives losing their jobs; of grandparents stranded in retirement homes. The deaths of “the friend of a friend” were flooding the local newspapers. The realization that this was all too real, and it was only the beginning, landed upon them after much hesitation. At last, threat began to crawl onto their own doorstep, and by then no measure seemed to be too radical. Overreacting became simply reacting.
Yet, out of all the chaos, a renewed spirit of community and solidarity had taken over their hearts, as they silently reflected on the situation of the world and their place within it. But they awoke in a world where what they had been told for years was all lies. Things such as, that business could remain as usual; that the work of thousands of people, whose purpose in life was to bring humanity closer to truth, was a hoax. The price of economic growth was suddenly not worth their mother’s or their father’s life. All after a young girl, not too long ago, had declared an eerily similar sentiment and was heavily mocked for it:
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” – Greta Thunberg
If the world is going to end, it won’t do so in the flash of a moment where everything that breathes and stands is engulfed by a wave of destruction leaving nothing behind. If it ends, it will be slow. It will start as a pestering warning, a flashing little red light that we do our best to ignore; but at some point, that light will grow more intense and bare our weaknesses, amplifying our desperation as we realize that we avoided it for too long. It will be torturous; anxiety will creep into our minds as we see that we lose control over the world around us. When one by one, things that we enjoy cease to be available; when we cannot be reunited with our loved ones, or have to face sudden goodbyes that we were not prepared for.
It is not about whether our world as we know it will or won’t end. It is about the fact that it can.
I don’t think during these moments it brings anyone any comfort – not even to the experts – to know they have been right the whole time. But if you found yourself astray in the sea of conflicting opinions from leaders – political or economic – who were all along protecting their own interests, now is the time to listen to the men and women standing in the background. Truth is, now more than ever, leadership’s shining beacon. The end of the world as we know it is no longer rhetorical, nor impersonal, not even hypothetical. We are getting a glimpse of what these previously unthinkable scenarios can look like.
The question is, after all of this is over and it is safe to come out of our confinement; after the streets buzz with life again, the imminence of threat becomes a distant memory, the metaphorical waters clear while the rivers and canals darken again, and we are left with the task of rebuilding our lives…what are we going to change? And, who will we choose to lead the way?