To no one’s surprise, I will be spending most of the next few weeks much the same as I have spent the past few: holed up in my apartment. This means, among other things, that I have lots of time to work on personal projects, such as this blog. I have a lot of topics in mind for future posts, and this period of sheltering in place will allow me to work on them as inspiration comes, which I hope will be very helpful for my productivity here. But first, I feel that it is most pertinent for me to write a little about what we are experiencing at the moment.
I have to say that I have been anticipating some sort of global crisis for some time now. In my first few years at Sonoma State, I did a lot of reading and discussing about the state of the people in the US and around the world, through the frameworks of religion, family and cultural histories, political ideologies, financial statuses, geography and environment, and much more. My experiences at that time truly shaped the foundations of my views on life (shoutout to the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies!), and it was then that I began to sense stirrings in the world.
I have since crafted all kinds of scenarios in my imagination, inherently based in my views and biases, for ways in which the world as we know it might begin to really shift. My expectation was that if daily life as we know it was to come to a grinding halt, it would most likely be due to either an environmental catastrophe or a social uprising.
One of the things that I didn’t consider very much was a pandemic. And unfortunately, despite my attempts to be prepared for an unexpected crisis, I know very little about healthcare or contagion, even though a pandemic could technically be considered an environmental catastrophe. Over the past several weeks, I have been doing research and following reports and guidelines, trying to understand more of what is going on, and yet I am still most often left with feelings of cluelessness, helplessness, and a loss for words.
A lot of us are feeling this way. We aren’t experts, and many of us can hardly call ourselves preppers. We are people with birthdays and travel plans, people who like to get together with our friends in cafés and breweries. We want to enjoy the first signs of spring after getting through another winter. Here in Germany, the sun has been doing its best to try to coax us out of our homes for picnics and barbecues, eager to welcome us into the next season. Unfortunately, if we are able to get outside for a bit, it is to be greeted by red tape around public parks as we make our way directly to the grocery store and then back home.
Kyle and I are living in the state of Brandenburg, in northern Germany. There is no lockdown in place here yet, but two weeks ago, our chancellor Angela Merkel announced new restrictions for the country that attempt to reign in social activity in order to suppress infection rates. These include the closure of public areas except for use of exercise, the closure of restaurants, and the ban of gatherings of people in groups larger than two, unless the people live together.
So far, these regulations have mostly been respected, and it is yet to be seen whether a national lockdown will be necessary. In the meantime, these social distancing regulations have been extended until April 19th.
Kyle has been attending German language classes at the Volkshochschule for the past several months, but these have been temporarily suspended. He came home early on Friday the 13th of March, saying that the school was tentatively set to re-open on April 20th, depending on the course of things. Shortly after, Uni Potsdam announced that the summer semester would also begin on April 20th, a week later than planned, at which time it is likely the classes will be held online. It remains to be clearly seen how the classes for the summer semester will be affected.
We had travel plans for April, during Kyle’s spring break and before my semester was set to begin. We were going to be traveling with my best friend and her husband to Norway and the Netherlands, with some time in Potsdam and Berlin in between, and we had been planning excitedly for months. Our flights and reservations have now been cancelled, and like many others around the world, we don’t know when or if we will be able to reschedule.
Kyle and I finished moving into a new apartment one week before the new regulations were put into place, so luckily we had already furnished our new home with the essentials. We are really enjoying this apartment, as it is in a very quiet location just a short distance from a river with lovely open spaces for walking (or picnicking, once we are able), and we now have a balcony, where we are growing a few flowers and herbs. Our self-isolation has therefore been going well so far, and we only need to go out for groceries a few times a week, which is not a big hassle with two grocery stores just around the corner.
I have been trying to use my time to keep in touch with friends more than usual lately, and I have even been catching up with a few people that I haven’t spoken with in years. I have been enjoying this very much, although I am really realizing how much energy of mine it uses (this is probably foreshadowing for a future post on anxiety) (unless I overthink it too much and never post it).
I find lots of joy in observing the things that people are doing with their time. I felt this way before this pandemic began; seeing people post their successes, their sources of joy and pride, and even their stories of frustration and hardship, I feel surges of emotion, whether these stories come from friends or family, acquaintances or strangers. I enjoy seeing people living their lives, as weird as that might sound. As much of an introvert as I am, I really like people. I just often prefer to observe, rather than participate.
I don’t mean to sound insensitive at all. This isn’t free time, this isn’t a surprise extended spring break for the world. This is causing chaos. There are very sick people, many of whom are dying, there are people who don’t know how they are going to make it through the next few months or even weeks. There are people working the front lines in unprotected positions, fighting for our lives. And while sheltering in place is appealing to introverts, at the same time it means that a lot of people are trapped in dangerous situations with domestic problems or their own mental health.
I am acutely aware of these things, and I think about them all the time. I have been following the numbers for weeks, even though they are confirmed to be inaccurate. I am grasping for some semblance of competence and control, just like everyone else.
This post was originally a lot more focused on the scary and overwhelming parts of this pandemic, actually. I spent the better part of the past week writing, thinking, erasing, and re-writing my thoughts, trying to gather them together and decide on a “message” for this post, including numbers and warnings, and relating it to my feelings on society and the state of our natural environment. I am still finding it really hard to not write lists of what to do, and what not to do in this time (but please, look these things up for yourselves, and do not believe or share what you read on Facebook or other social media sites, until you have checked the facts).
When I read my words however, it made me want to write about all the good things that are happening, all the beautiful acts of kindness that people are sharing with each other, and the blessings that are coming with the global pause. The widespread closures are helping people to realize a bit more what the world could be like, at least in the US, if we structured our society a little bit differently, and I think something big is going to come from this. The world is not going to be the same, that much is clear to many of us.
No matter what direction I wrote, I felt uncomfortable about the amount of information that I was leaving out. So instead of writing something either patronizing or profound, I will compromise with this general update on how Kyle and I are doing, and a little bit about how I am feeling. Like I said, I don’t know much about healthcare, so I will leave that to the experts. For now, I will close with a quote that I feel is relevant, that I have used in the past when describing our environmental crisis:
“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”
― Martin Keogh