Into The Valley (A Reflection)

It was initially described as a mysterious illness, originating outside of the country. Before everything seemed to tilt, I went to church and then traveled to North Carolina with my family. It was just like the flu, some said. It would be gone by July, a local doctor reiterated. When I got off the plane on March 11th of 2020, concern was growing exponentially. I had decided to quarantine out of caution, and then the following day a stay at home order was issued by the local government. Aside from essential businesses, we were on lockdown. 

Covid-19. Caronavirus. It was real, people were dying, and still are. I gathered I was high-risk, but learned that it was more so because my lungs had never fully developed (I had been on a ventilator as an infant). My mom frequently expressed that she was scared for me, and I was scared for my grandparents and my sister. I vaguely remember hearing about H1N1, Ebola, Zika, but there was more reassurance in how it was being handled. This time around, it seemed like all bets were off. 

By day, I was an anxious mess, mostly because everything was so unknown at the time. I hated the constant speculation about the virus in itself, along with what may or may not happen as a result. The news is never not on in my house, so that in itself was a challenge. I blasted music a lot and tried to journal. I didn’t want to eat, and found myself exercising more than usual. I started shutting off notifications and muting websites, which helped but didn’t stop me from doomscrolling (a feel-better attempt that always backfired).

At night, I would fall into a depression. I had just started genuinely getting involved at my church (my first time volunteering with any church, really), and to have the put on hold felt like a loss of possibilities when it came to connection and spiritual growth. A man that I could see myself dating went off the grid, and I had to literally sit with my feelings about it. My brother was on the tail end of his deployment, unsure of how he’d get home or when (after already going through the wringer back in January). And being the extrovert that I am, it was tough to suddenly be so limited in terms of what I could do or who I could see. 

I eventually recognized it as what is commonly known as a trauma response, and what followed is rather blurry. Walks were a saving grace. There were times where I read or watched movies for the entire day because I didn’t have the emotional capacity to do anything else. I Facetimed, Zoomed, and played silly games on Houseparty. I prayed, even when it got tiring and repetitive. And then I cried, waiting until late at night to truly let it out.

But what I remembered most was the little, now-significant moments: the feeling of sunshine on my face. A care package from one of my best friends (because I told her I missed Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee). Listening to Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney on the back patio as the weather warmed. Summertime was different, yet I was fortunate to get outside and be on the water, and did so whenever I had the chance.

In retrospect, I was incredibly fortunate both physically and financially. I’m grateful that I could support friends of mine who struggled with being alone, or were dealing with emotionally taxing situations in addition to the pandemic. Being a rock was part of what kept me going, even if all I could do was listen and validate and not let those people give up on themselves.

The anger didn’t set in until I started trying to get a vaccine appointment last month. I had long held-in anger at an incompetent administration who cared more about pandering to their base than being honest and working alongside health experts. When people cried, “My rights, my freedoms!” I wanted to scream that getting a haircut and going to a restaurant isn’t exactly a right, but a privilege. You don’t get to complain about supposedly being controlled or policed while simultaneously being against marriage equality, denying the existence of racial injustice, and refusing to see the disparities in healthcare. And you don’t have to like wearing a mask or agree with every decision being made, but don’t make things more difficult for those who try to protect the people around them, or can’t “just stay home” (as it’s often oversimplified). Everyone has the right to an opinion, but no one has the right to use that opinion to harm someone else.

I didn’t have the energy to argue in those moments, and I don’t always do well at thinking on my feet. When it comes to choosing physical versus mental health, I don’t have a solid answer. It’s not about following every rule to the letter, but rather, taking care of each other. How differently would this have played out (at least initially) had we collectively focused more on helping one another? How many lives would have been saved? 

How can some Christians say they love Jesus, while refusing to see and meet people in their humanity?

Contemplating the road ahead is an overwhelming thought, and the best way I’m coping is one day at a time. I hope we remember that what was accessible and doable during the pandemic is still entirely possible (especially for the Disability Community). I pray enough people will get the vaccine, or at least be open to getting it in the future. I pray that the generations shaped by this last year will live and love better than the ones before it. May we learn to show compassion to the collective suffering we’ve faced, and sit with one another rather than compare or compete. My we choose humility over superiority, even if our health seems to indicate that we’re invincible. And as life moves forward, may we build a culture of presence instead of constant productivity, and cultivation rather than instant gratification.

Yes, God will do His part, but we also have to do ours

Keep going. Just. Keep. Going.

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