As I write this, I am propped up in my bed next to my small, fuzzy dog, who is comically laid under a blanket with her head poking out like a human. It’s cold and misty outside, and the window is open just a few inches, which makes the room pleasantly cool and being under the comforter irresistibly cozy. From here, I am able to respond to emails, make phone calls, make progress on ongoing tasks, and generally work in a manner indistinguishable from a typical day in the office. Eventually, I will have to get up and make myself coffee, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I am most likely to just bring my coffee back to my bedroom and continue as before, in my small nest of pillows and blankets and fuzzy dog.
If this sounds insufferably privileged, that’s because it is. At a time when a pandemic is burning through the entire globe, upending economies and livelihoods and claiming thousands of lives, my greatest concern is having to spend a greater-than-desirable quantity of my time at home. Yes, my husband (through cosmic joke of timing) is currently living in Paris and we are unable to see one another for at least the next month, but he is comfortable in a luminous apartment on a quiet street that we’ve stayed in before. He has fashioned a barbell out of two water jugs and a broom. He downloaded new video games and is reading new books. We video chat at least once a day. We’ll be fine.
For me, the idea that my role in this situation largely consists of staying home as much as possible seems on its face to be egregiously fortunate. I think of the doctors and nurses and grocery store workers and delivery people and firefighters and everyone who has no choice but to put on their uniforms and get to work in this, and I’m almost embarrassed by my good fortune. I think of the many people who have already lost their jobs — and the many more still to lose them — and blush at the idea of finding it too challenging to work from home for weeks on end. Oh, poor me, having to watch Netflix again and work from my bed when it’s rainy and WhatsApp my husband. And while, yes, mental health and well-being are not a competition, and someone’s enviable problems can feel incredibly difficult in the moment, we are only making this harder if we do not at minimum force ourselves to acknowledge the truth: To stay home through this — and, my goodness, to be steadily employed while doing so — is a profound privilege.
It may still feel difficult, you may still yearn for friends and picnics and happy hours and afternoons spent wandering your favorite stores, but it is a privilege nonetheless. And more than simply being a luxury, it’s more than that: It’s a duty. The most noble, collective, and selfless thing we can do at this time is to isolate. We should be honored to play that part, to be acting in our own small ways to make the lives of a nurse we will never meet just that much easier. Yet I wonder to what extent our deeply individualist and instant gratification-obsessed culture is able to perceive it that way.
When I walk my dog and see people playing basketball in the park, when I log onto social media and am overwhelmed with complaints about having to stay home, when I see people at the grocery store buying a handful of non-essential items — as if exposing the cashier on a daily basis is of no consequence — it’s hard not to feel demoralized. We simply do not have the collectivist culture that many other countries have utilized to great effect in this situation (French social media is currently alight with videos of people calling the cops on joggers, as any non-essential outdoor activity is now considered a serious violation of civic duty), and I worry that the only prism many of us will be able to see this crisis through is how does this affect me?
And yes, I am not immune to the general malaise and anxiety that being homebound for an indefinite amount of time causes. A trip I’ve been looking forward to for months has been canceled. I desperately miss the people I love (including my husband). I find myself going a little stir-crazy at least once a day with only a small dog for company. My anxiety-induced insomnia has become a presence so unavoidable in my life that I simply have learned to sleep when my body mercifully allows, and to not mourn when it doesn’t. I understand the feeling, like any human being would in this circumstance. But I also know that if we do not rise to the occasion of the situation, and do everything we can to make this time easier on ourselves (and particularly those around us who have no choice but to keep society running and keep people as healthy as possible), our very fabric will start to unravel. Keeping a healthy perspective on what truly is and isn’t a sacrifice, and being grateful and present in the things that are ultimately privileges, is not a matter of denying your own experience. It’s a matter of correcting your internal monologue to be more grounded in reality and a sense of perspective, especially when that monologue feels like the loudest thing in the world.
Image via Pexels