Life in Flux: Coping with Pandemic Change

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Life in Flux: Coping with Pandemic Change

Life is movement. It is change. It is flux. To move is to exist. So, change is part of the fabric of existence. But change comes in countless degrees, from barely noticeable to shockingly fast. On the latter end of the spectrum, we’ve all experienced times when we had too much going on at once. Often, this overwhelming feeling is correlated to the pace of change—too much change happening all at once. And these past few weeks, not just I, or you, or my family, not my community, our entire little planet has had a hard time keeping up with the pace of change. An invisible threat that seems to loom everywhere has set in motion a number of actions that have been unthinkable before this danger, and even while the crisis has been unfolding. Our world is dealing with too much all at once.

 

And each one of us is responding in some way. Different ways, but the response is there. Our initial instinct is to deal with our basic need for safety. When our minds are coping with a crisis, we go into survival mode. This is part of the human design, and it serves a purpose. Survival, of course, is not just physical. It is mental, emotional, and spiritual. We are holistic beings, and signs of danger trigger all sorts of responses intended to protect us from whatever it is we are facing. And here comes the main problem we are facing these days. What are we facing? Time has revealed some of it, and the future will unveil more.

 

It all started by learning of a virus in a far-away (for many of us) country that was causing significant distress by (1) being highly contagious, and (2) causing some deaths, especially in vulnerable populations. We watched it unfold there with compassion and increasing concern as drastic measures were taken in order to contain the epidemic. When personal testimonies were added to official news, we empathized even more with the situation over there. We hoped for the best and continued our lives as before. But not for long.

 

Our interconnected world has built paths between us, and the vast majority of people alive today have taken for granted the benefits of fast travel. We have easily experienced other cultures, made memories, cherished nature, people, and places. Travel facilitated our business, our economy, our education, our vacation, and our relationships. It became a key and essential thread in the fabric of the human experience. These past weeks, our interconnectedness and the paths we have built seemed to have betrayed us. Along with the joys of reunion and return, we also brought danger. Hiding in plain sight, invisible, yet powerful—deadly even. We carried it everywhere, little by little, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, mostly unaware and certainly unintended. Country after country has, in a matter of days, faced a threat unknown and unexpected yesterday, or the week before, or last summer, let alone a year ago. Our plans began to change overnight, and in a matter of days, our present situation demanded abrupt adjustments to a new reality.

 

Many schools are temporarily closed or closing, putting parents with small kids in the situation of figuring out child care almost overnight and/or home-schooling. Academy and college dorms are being emptied, leaving students to figure out their housing for the near future. Some of these young adults receive a warm welcome into their parents’ homes. Others have to face past wounds and possibly ongoing threats. Some have to learn how to juggle babysitting, house chores, and finishing up school in a new system. Those in their final year of study feel acutely the abrupt cut-off from places that have become their second home, and the swift and cold good-byes from friends and classmates. Families experience suddenly much more time together than their typical routine—and this is for better or for worse, from case to case. Many jobs have moved into the home, requiring quick adjustments. Those whose work allows for it have the advantage of continuity and financial security. Numerous businesses have closed or significantly reduced their activity, leaving many vulnerable to economic difficulties and an uncertain future. In this day and age, we all have loved ones farther than we wish was the case, so we have to carve out time to learn about their well-being, share in their experience, and pray for their protection.

 

Quarantine, we have learned, is the best plan of action if we want to come out of this crisis with the least number of fatalities and the slimmest feeling of failure. For many, it is voluntary (still). For millions of others, it is mandatory. We have gone within days from roaming the streets, meeting up with friends at will, driving freely on freeways, and the luxury of fully-stocked stores, to being confined to our homes, our streets being patrolled by police, and in some places, food and basic supplies being rationed—if not momentarily insufficient. We have learned (or are slowly learning) to keep our distance from each other. Each one of us is a potential risk to the other. Each one of us a possible danger. Friends and family, church communities, work colleagues, are learning how to retain the connections we have built over years and which have sustained our relationships, while preserving physical distance. We are relearning how to socialize given the constraints. When your feet can only take us so far as the balcony, the mind creatively finds ways to maintain the social link, transcending physical boundaries with spiritual and emotional harmony. But the lack of external movement can also push internal “movement” towards dangerous paths. Our minds and emotions can betray us by overreacting and overthinking. Finding the right balance is for each one to decide, though of course, the reconfigured physical proximity means that others still bear the effect of our experience.

 

Warnings moved further west every day. “We saw what happened there, but we didn’t believe it would happen here” is the refrain echoed. The temporary paralysis required by a situation that appears out of control has no regard for wealth, flag colors, or social rank. It spreads indiscriminately, though, sadly, discrimination in treatment seems to be a necessary choice in some places. The medical system is both at its best and its worst. Acclaimed but overworked and depleting, it is simply unable to keep up with the demand.

 

Such sudden changes experienced by such a large segment of the human population is unprecedented for our time, and fears find nests in our souls. We manage it differently, but concern is inevitable and I would say, normal—even welcome. First, there is some concern over how to stop this. We all hope we can overcome it with our best attempts, and the concern fuels our attempts. Then, of course, questions arise whether the virus will return and we will have to deal with subsequent waves. There is also the problem of precedent. We already have precedents for epidemics in history, though advances in science favor us today and, so far, placed mass-disasters outside the realm of possibilities for many of us. The power of precedents is that they also act as forecasts, and this power can engender both panic and prevention. Will something similar happen again? How will we respond then? Should we invest in being better prepared, or hope for the best and trust we will figure it out then? As we have all seen, our world is not prepared to deal with a pandemic. Will we act differently in light of this experience? Fear fosters solutions, but solutions are forged in a melting pot of needs that will compete for attention when we come out of the crisis. The urgent needs will have to be met first, and only after that, if we can afford, we may create long-term investments to prevent a similar situation.

 

Mixed emotions are everywhere, and it is normal. If we didn’t experience emotions we would not be humans. Hopefully, we will all lean towards validating what others feel rather than judging, for judgment stems from a place of ignorance and is a source of unnecessary grief. Let us lessen the distress and not add to it. Let us allow others to express how they feel, for listening to them is the quickest path to restoration while shunning them is a needless detour. Let us not assume what is best for everyone but trust their judgment to carry them through. Let us not pretend we can know the needs of complete strangers but give them the space to be, for being is more difficult for some than for others in stressful times. Let us be prudent but not greedy, believing that God can complement our wisdom in ways imaginable and unimaginable.

 

Times like this hold a mirror to our souls and our thoughts. Hiding in the crevices of our brains is the inconspicuous question: do all lives matter equally? Do some matter more? If yes, what is it that makes us think other lives matter more? Age? Race? The color of one’s skin? Gender? Nationality? No, we say, it is not possible for us to think that way. But we do. As a race, humanity has always thought that some lives matter more than others. Though morally wrong, it is our natural tendency. And that is what makes someone cough over doctors trying to save him or lick his hand and then smear ill-intentions in a crammed train. We are in this together with the good, the bad, and the criminally ugly, and, sadly, we have the few to show us that the morally-informed human heart can be worse than infectious but unconscious bacteria.

 

Perhaps the reason why this crisis has become so central to our lives, aside from the fact that the adjustments make it so, is that it confronts us with two essential aspects of our humanity: our mortality and our freedom. As a friend of mine (Jamie) put it, it feels as if we have to choose between life and freedom—a tough call indeed, especially for those who do not feel an immediate threat personally. But even if our own death is not likely, that of a loved one is possible. And since this virus spreads so easily, the constant question remains—when we come on the other side of it, will everyone I know and care about, and their loved ones, make it unscathed? Realistically, not. Certainly not for everyone. Death is part of this situation, and whether or not it is my own, the reality of our mortality is a little clearer before us for the time being, whatever this does for each of us. But we cannot be too assuming here either, for some news report grim scenarios for younger generations, too.

 

These two aspects of mortality and freedom have been intertwined since the beginning of our existence as a race. Created free to choose between good and evil, we misused that freedom and signed our mortality. Misled in our desire for more freedom, we trapped ourselves in a mire of competing needs and insufficient resources. Instead of the sinless life of selflessness we were gifted with by God, we inherited a sinful nature of selfishness and a transient life on a generous but degenerating planet. Without God stepping down to show us the light, we would have gone out of existence and remained nothing but a sad memory in the universe, a terrible testimony of what it means to disobey God and to imagine that life can exist (let alone thrive) outside of the governance of divine love.

 

A solution has been offered for restoration in the life and death of Jesus, and we are now awaiting a better future than what our planet has ever been able to offer. Is that future nearer to us each day? Certainly, for the unfolding of time takes us on that exact prophetic path. There is no other future but one that culminates with a new beginning, with a new kingdom—everlasting, good, sinless. But how near or far is it? How near is the time when things will get a lot worse before they get better? We do not know. We do not know because we cannot know. It is a secret God has not revealed to us. We, therefore, should not venture to assume, even when it seems that signs point that way. Why? Because signs have been interpreted to suggests Christ’s soon second coming for two millennia. This does not make the Bible irrelevant to this topic. It only puts our assumptions into context and humbles our pretentions of knowledge. We do not know. We cannot know, because God did not want us to know. But if the unfolding of events gives us a glimpse of how things can happen, then it is a good reminder of where we are eventually headed. If the unfolding of events makes the infinitely better we expect so much more precious, then we can build more trust in the One who will carry us through the dark end of the tunnel when the time comes. If the unfolding of events helps us realize how fast things can happen, let us keep that before us as we continue to chart the new normal.

 

Life is movement, change, flux. It will continue to be so in heaven and on the New Earth. To exist is to move. The change we experience these days is stressful and difficult, but temporary. Temporary not only (or even primarily) because this crisis will likely end, temporary because we know that the crisis of sin in which our world has been swirling for so long, and which is the ultimate source of our current challenges, will come to an end. As we learn to cope with too much change at once, let us find rest in the One in Whom everything breathes and moves and is alive. Let us be patient and wise and faithful at the same time, making good use of all the resources God has endowed us with, and leaving the rest to Him. Let us embrace the concept of change. May the reminder of flux, even when the rush seems overwhelming, bear a testimony of gratitude for that which is an essential feature of who we are. And may this reminder keep before us a treasured truth: in our renewed state, for as long as God’s breath will keep us alive, change will enable endless joys and discoveries and deepened connections. It will be worth it.

 

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Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.