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Life As We Know It

I’m old, and I’ve seen some stuff. But I’ve never, ever seen anything like this. No one I know has. Everything we know and do and belong to has morphed and narrowed and stopped. Like with so many other organizations, mine will go fully online this week—no face-to-face contact. Everywhere, people are scrambling to make sense of this, to find their bearings, to make it work for themselves, their families, and their co-workers. In the meantime, the news gets grimmer.

I want to say that I know it will all work out, that we’ll learn new things and share our knowledge and our compassion with each other, and that we will do the right thing whenever we possibly can. And truthfully, although I don’t have any guarantees of any kind, that's what I’m going to hold on to. Although this is like nothing any of us has ever seen, in so many ways it’s the big test to show that we have learned what we need to know to be fully functioning adults in the world.

Many times in the last seven days I have been brought to tears by how seriously we take our commitment to each other as humans.

That’s the way you think about things when you get to be as old as I am. Long before COVID-19, I found myself wanting proof that we really can grow and change and become nimble and flexible and resilient the longer we live. I don’t want to believe that we just keep going in the same circles, or getting trapped in the same mazes, or doing the same puzzles and never learning any lessons. Anyone who has gotten past their 30s probably realizes that we do just keep having to deal with our same life lessons. But in these last few years, I’ve been a little desperate to know that we can actually expand as humans and even go past our wildest dreams in terms of our confidence and creativity and connection to other people.

Now, in the relative midst of those kinds of thoughts, I find myself at this unprecedented time in history, and I’m looking for the message that’s here for all of us. In my dark and stressful times, like when I go to the grocery store and the toilet paper shelves are empty, I let myself lapse into some zombie apocalyptic craziness. Is this the moment in our history in which we are all reduced to some future anthropological study? I hope not. In fact, when I am not staring at grocery carts full of boxes of pasta, I am actually deeply moved by how we have risen to the occasion.

I see my friends and co-workers behave with wisdom and compassion about this thing itself. We need to go home and stop the likelihood of this spreading further. Period. And everyone I know—and many people I don’t know—are helping to make that possible. In the last week, I have seen people make difficult decisions, postpone things that were vitally important to them, learn new skills, try things they never thought they would try, and manage human interactions with the utmost skill and compassion. Many times in the last seven days I have been brought to tears by how seriously we take our commitment to each other as humans.

These are not the circumstances I ever imagined would take place for me to see how awesome we all can be, believe me. But I am learning it, nonetheless. Every day now, I see someone go out of their way to help a friend or colleague to navigate this new world. Every day, I read an analysis or a poem or a thought that helps us all understand how to do this a little better. And every day, I am in awe of all of it—of all of us. I am sorry that it took this for me to become truly aware of our awesomeness as humans, but I see it now more clearly than ever. And that, like this thing itself, changes everything.

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