Choice and coronavirus

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion Page, March 22, 2020

Whenever I’m buckling in for a flight, I survey the strangers seated nearby. If the engine were to sputter or a passenger to suffer a seizure, these would be the people with whom I would navigate a crisis. That realization can be comforting – or more frightening than rough turbulence.

I have the same thoughts about this surreal situation which is our new normal.

Like passengers on an airliner, we are strapped in together for a ride through this public health crisis.

Each of us brings our own circumstances, challenges, and mindset to it.

My extended family is a perfect example.

We are kids with dry noses and snotty noses; healthy adults and adults with compromised immune systems; and one very pregnant mama in waiting.

All of us are facing this coronavirus for the first time. But like the strangers we’re with in this crisis, our responses are as varied as the colors in a Crayola box. In terms of cautionary measures, we range from defiant to compliant.

I’m hopeful that with the right combination of faith, caution and pragmatism we will resist the pull to panic, heed the call to prudence and treat others with kindness and respect.

Last weekend I stopped at Target for an emergency purchase. As I approached the checkout counter, the young cashier wiped off the countertop with sanitizer. Clutching my basket, sanitizing wipe encircling the handle, I struck up a conversation.

“Have you been busy today?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “it’s been crazy. Like the holidays. Except that people have been really mean.”

“People are just afraid,” I said. “Are you afraid?”

“No,” she replied.

This young woman went to work so the rest of us can purchase hand soap, milk, and, in my case, Drano. Why must she endure the bad manners of others?

We are barely 82 days into the year in which our vibrant economy changed overnight.

The uncertainty is unnerving.

We live in a country where we can exercise free will. We come and go as we please. As a baby boomer, it’s all I’ve ever known.

But here we are.

Reluctant shut-ins.

People are responding differently.

Some are critical, others creative; some are cooperative, others skeptical.

Some are hoarding toilet paper, while others are making their own hand sanitizer.

Kids, who thrive on routines, have none.

Seniors are shuttered without access to their loved ones. Working parents are now working-from-home parents, creating reports or PowerPoints while the kids watch Paw Patrol in the next room.

The little people in my life are staying busy with movies, crafts and Legos. They aren’t missing out on playoff seasons, like high school hoopsters who had their hearts set on winning the big prize.

I can only imagine the range of emotions the older students have experienced. Depending on their circumstances, they may feel cheated, ambivalent, or scared.

And then there are the spring breakers who refuse to forfeit their fun. Are they paying attention? Do they realize the world is bigger than they?

The kids may not be at school, but if ever there was a teaching moment, it is now.

They are watching and listening, with varying degrees of understanding or concern.

It’s up to the adults to strike a balance between fear and caution.

It’s up to the adults to adopt the appropriate mindset and to help our kids – whatever their age – to do the same.

Attitude is contagious.

Words matter.

So, let us be thoughtful about what we say and do — and why.

We can teach kids how to put the greater good before some of our own needs and desires. It’s one of the greatest lessons we can impart.

Those of us who find ourselves with unexpected free time might consider what we can do for others — not just because it is the right thing to do, but because doing for others shifts our minds and hearts from our own woes.

John Sweeney is an author, speaker and co-owner of Brave New Workshop Comedy Theater. In a Facebook post in which he encourages us to stay safe and to laugh, Sweeney shared a list of questions we can ask to reduce our fear and panic. My favorites include:

Is there an elderly person I know who I could call to ask if they’re okay and if they need groceries?

Is there a health care worker who might need some free babysitting?

How can I be of service to others with the extra time I have because I am not commuting to work?

Who is the friend or family member I have wanted to reconnect with but have been too busy to reach out to?

What are the wonderful things in my life that I have been too busy to be grateful for?

I challenge us all to add to Sweeney’s list.

Let’s be kind to the people who are still at work; deliver meals or run errands for others; buy gift certificates from restaurants or local businesses we won’t visit while we are social distancing; or make online purchases from businesses that can make deliveries.

Let’s put fear in its proper place.

We don’t have a choice about the existence of this coronavirus. But we do have a choice about how we respond to it. We can be the toddler who throws a tantrum. Or we can be the adult on the airplane who helps another strap on her oxygen mask.

~~~If you enjoyed this piece and would like to read more of Caryn’s work, you can sign up to receive her columns by email. You can also purchase a signed copy of her award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” which includes some of her most popular columns, here. Need an inspirational speaker who offers a roadmap to living the “better” choice? Please reach out.