My daughter (the second of four) asked me today whether I was afraid—of the coronavirus and the devastating implications of the current pandemic. My answer was no. I don’t feel afraid—but it was only later that I was able to think about why not.
Here are some of my reasons.
- I remember the GFC in 2008. I also remember the recession that hit Australia in the early 1990s. We lost our home in the latter—and we survived. We have rented ever since, but that has given us the freedom to move and explore and follow dreams we wouldn’t have pursued if we’d owned a home. We moved to NZ just prior to the impact of the GFC in 2008. I kept my job (in a tertiary college) but the nature of the job changed dramatically because of a college business development that faltered on the back of the economic collapse. Wages were frozen (and never seemed to defrost) so we suffered that too. But we survived.
- I’ve lost a business, and there’s nothing like the liquidation of something you’ve invested everything in (emotionally as well as financially) to teach you that you’re probably more resilient than you think. I’ll never forget the day I realised I had literally nothing in the bank and wondered what I could possibly do next—and realised that I didn’t need anything in order to do the one thing I have always loved most: writing. I started writing that very day, and I wrote a NZ bestseller before the end of that year.
- I’ve lost a friend. The death of Darlene last year was an absolute kick in the balls. I didn’t see it coming—not just her death, but also its impact on me emotionally. I had never once considered what life would be like without her input, and once it dawned on me that life would never be the same again, it was too late. I’ll carry the scar of that time forever—but like any scar, it’s a reminder of more than the pain that accompanied it. Scars are evidence of survival, of endurance, even of adventure. I would not have felt the pain of her loss had I not ventured into that friendship, and so the scars are more a reminder of the value of that friendship than the loss itself. This has been a recurring theme in my life—and this pandemic is just part of another cycle.
- I have lost a marriage. Sure, I regained it, but it was a tough few years as we rebuilt the framework of a relationship that I’d pretty much torn down. The consequence of that rebuild involved a shift away from journalism to tertiary study, and then to an academic career. It became one of the most fulfilling and rewarding times of my life. I studied full time for almost 10 years, and barely earned enough to cover the weekly bills. But I have never felt more well off.
- I have been sick. Really sick. Shortly after the liquidation of my magazine I suffered an unexpected bout of pancreatitis and was told I might not survive the week. It was my moment of confronting mortality—which basically means there comes a time in your life when you realise death is sometimes untimely, sometimes capricious, and never happens with an angelic fanfare or end credits or a grand send-off. Sometimes people just die, in the most mundane ways. It’s part of life—and yet it’s the one aspect of living and dying that most of us work hardest to ignore. People say life is unfair. No, it’s not. But death is. So no—I don’t fear what this virus might have in store for me. I’ve already looked that demon in the face.
- I am already self-isolating. I’ve worked from home, or from cafes, for years, as a writer and journalist and consultant. In recent months I have been bemoaning the loss of a pattern of work that also allowed a certain amount of socialising (with cafe staff and fellow patrons). But suddenly I find that my peculiar expertise has put me in good stead for a time when many people are being urged to retreat from society in order to stay clear of the pandemic. And I can say, hand on heart, it’s a good thing. Sure, there are challenges, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. I have developed plenty of survival techniques that make the challenges surmountable, and I’m happy to share them.
- I came to realise a long time ago that faith, hope and love are ways of seeing and knowing that apply in every situation, not just (by any means) spiritual contexts. And a pandemic, even one as destructive and rapidly advancing as COVID-19, can’t diminish these ways of knowing. If anything, it enhances them. Think of faith as story … the story that has made you who you are. Think of love as encounter … engagement with others. Think of hope as innovation … the creation of new things. I see these three things as being at the very core of life; at the centre of who we are; at the heart of what it is to be human. And because they are part of our wiring and coded into our DNA, they’re also free, elemental, basic to our humanity. This was the case before coronavirus and its potential impact, whether on our health, or the economy, or our livelihoods. It will be the case all through this crisis. And it will be the case afterwards. We are NOT how much we earn, or the societal structures we have erected, or the patterns of day-to-day behaviours that we rely on and take for granted. We are human beings, some would say the image of God—people of story, people of encounter, and people who innovate. So, in some ways, we could say these are exciting times, because times such as these require people of faith, hope and love, to steady the ship, and to captain the weary and the terrified through the storm to calmer waters. Captains don’t succumb to fear—they step up and show the way.
Anyway … that’s why I’m not afraid. I guess you could say it’s just life experience. It’s true that none of us have experienced anything quite like this, and I don’t pretend that I have. But it’s also not completely foreign to me either—to a life lived at the edge of what is typical or comfortable or predictable. These are challenging days, for sure. But we’re up to it. Take it from me—we can do this.