Last week my manager asked my co-workers and myself to contemplate several questions from an organizational, team and personal perspective. The following are the questions we were given for a personal “inward reflection”:
• What did I learn about myself?
• What do I want to ensure I continue?
• “Because I had the chance to go through a pandemic, I …”
I found the entire exercise to be helpful, but these last three questions, in particular, were good to reflect on. Still, in the end, it felt like an oversimplification to reflect on my personal “sacrifices” and what they have taught me (while, truthfully, it has been more of an inconvenience than a sacrifice). Sure there are things that have been more acute because of being classified as an essential worker and later being able to shelter and work at home. I do want to have gained some better personal understanding of my own coping abilities and ability to adapt to change. But, am I qualified to review this as a life-altering event in my life?
On more than one occasion, I’ve had to think back to the stories that my mother/father-in-law shared about their experiences during the second world war. I reflected on some books that I’ve read from individuals who lived through a war. This reading made me react negatively to the idea that living through this pandemic was like living as if “we’re in a war” because my own experience is nothing like what the authors experienced during WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, and the Kosovo War (the conflicts in which I’ve read the most personal accounts). The only accounts that I’ve heard during the past couple of months that compare with those war stories are shared by medical personnel who are caring for COVID-19 patients in hard hit areas, families being displaced and experiencing hunger because of the loss of a job, and family survivors who lost a loved one to this pandemic.
Mostly what I’ve realized is how this pandemic has impacted a disproportionate number of persons living or working in a condensed population. That unequal impact has led to the varied responses to the “re-opening” of different states and I try to keep that in mind when I listen to family members who rail against the restrictions that they’re being asked to make. The recent suicide death of Dr. Lorna Breen tells of the devastating impact that many medical personnel have experienced caring for COVID-19 patients, especially in New York City. Here in Ohio, cousins who are nurses, are lamenting being furloughed because non-emergency surgeries were cancelled.
Have we, as a nation, lost the ability to empathize? As the impact and sacrifices of this pandemic falls most heavily on a select group of people (city dwellers, poor, black and brown, elderly, imprisoned, factory workers), how do I integrate that with my own privileged inconveniences? I will admit to feeling intoxicating anger at those untouched by the pandemic who express so little regard for what it has cost others. I will even admit that I have wished retribution in the lives of those who are so callous. Doing this exercise, I found it helpful to name ways that I have experienced this pandemic because it showed me how untouched I have truly been in the big scheme of things. It has helped me to admit my own insensitivity to others whose experience and political leanings differ from my own. I found that I can integrate the insights gained into becoming a more thoughtful, caring person who can incorporate gratitude into my life in a new way, knowing all the while, that too is the reality of a privileged white person. I can insure that these lessons don’t “go to waste” which I think was the ultimate goal of my director posing the questions. And I ask myself, what am I missing in my “big picture” that I really need to see, to better respond to and empathize with those who have given so much to this pandemic?