Friday, July 3, 2020

Pathfinding the COVID-19 Wilderness

The joke here is that I  own a Nissan Pathfinder, which is also the tow vehicle for my tiny camping trailer, the Green Goddess. The idea of finding the safe path to take during this coronavirus pandemic is no joke, though, and I'm not just talking about the dangers of catching or transmitting the virus. What is important is not just being physically safe but also finding a way to live a full and fruitful life during dangerous times. I'm finding three challenges to living a fulfilling life in our current times: physical, mental, and governmental.

The Physical Environment

Let's face it: our physical environment is more dangerous now, and we'll be living in this more dangerous environment for a long time, maybe even for the rest of our lives. Times have changed. I wrote about some of those lifestyle changes in my last post, which I wrote about a month ago. That much time passing between posts is a surprise, but I guess I've been focusing on my new, "ramped up" old routine.

It is like pathfinding, though, through a dangerous wilderness. Even while bicycle riding to the library, which only has curbside delivery now, with book browsing via the online catalog, I have to leave home only after checking whether I have a mask (which I don't wear while riding but have handy) and whether I have sanitizing spray. I am prepared to kindly ask others to keep their safe distance. Entering stores is an even more dangerous excursion into the "deepest, darkest wilderness." Sometimes when entering a store, I feel like Frodo and Samwise in The Lord of the Rings as they enter Shelob's lair. This coronavirus is invisible yet still dangerous. It's out there somewhere--in the air, on some surface, but where? I enter a store mindful of surfaces, air flow, other shoppers. Sometimes I don't enter or I just poke my head in and then leave.

A Balanced Inner Life

Negotiating the physical environment during a pandemic is just one aspect of living one's life. There's the physical and then there's the mental. My wife and I are dealing with all those issues everyone else is also dealing with--cabin fever, the sense of life being restricted, the awareness of danger to ourselves and to our loved ones. Emotional claustrophobia.

A main way we maintain a balanced inner life is by continuing our practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. We've been doing this technique for many years, and since it's safe to sit quietly and close our eyes at home, we have our entire inner selves to experience, safely and enjoyably. This is a great boon. And the deep rest the technique provides the body also strengthens our immune systems.

Since I'm retired and my wife works her consulting business at home, we haven't had to deal with environmental dangers like folks who are still working out in the community. Beyond engaging in those physical safety measures while at the grocery store or the farm store, our challenge is that we are always at home--cabin fever. We're exploring local camping with our tiny trailer, which opens our horizons, but we're also taking time to honor our individual lives. We've recently bought a second car so we each "have our own." This is, of course, not a matter of legality but just a sense of identification. We had two cars for many years, but when we both found ourselves more at home, me having retired and my wife starting her own business, then we sold one car. With two cars again, I can travel and camp locally, and my wife and I can both enjoy some individual time alone, or she can come and visit, or I can drop in at home for the day. Having two cars is both an actual opening of possibilities and a symbolic recognition that we both have individual lives, the cars expanding and enriching both personal time and shared time.

It's odd but true that travel now--even across the road to chat with a neighbor--involves much more psychological gravitas. My wife and I are finding ways to safely "open up" our lives, both individually and together, in ways that fulfill our need to both be together sometimes and alone sometimes. How typically American my wife and I are that finding a balance in life, finding emotional safety, includes buying a car! The irony on top of the irony is that buying a second car wasn't just an emotional gesture. It really does increase safe opportunities to explore our individual lives and our life together.

The Government Conundrum

A conundrum is a "confusing and difficult problem or question." How our government is dealing with COVID-19 is certainly an uncertain landscape to find a safe path through. I suppose it has always been the reality that government actions affect our lives--but now government actions glaringly affect our lives . . . and deaths--130,000 American lives as I write this. One governor called the pandemic experience the Wild West, and I get it. Since the response of the federal government for the most part has been too little, too late, and since many states (all but two of the fifty, by my reading) have opened up too early, there is that sense of living the frontier life, out there on our own and having to be self-reliant. It's like pathfinding through a bog or swamp. We have to be careful where we step because the land may look firm but may suck us under.

We have to be self-reliant and look out for ourselves and our loved ones as best we can. Physical and mental dangers are increased, though, due to the insufficient and inept (and sometimes insane) response of the government to this pandemic. It's as if our neighbor has a vicious dog and lets it run loose. The city responds--or says it has--yet somehow the dog is still running loose. Okay, we've made the phone call, but the dog's still out there, pacing and growling. We have to recognize the reality. Unfortunately, for whatever psychological reasons, many people are not recognizing that the dog's still outside our front doors, growling and waiting for us to come out. And the government's commentary is making the situation worse. That, in my opinion, is true for the federal government and for my state of Iowa. Iowa isn't lowering the curve of infections; it's just behind the curve of other states.

Finally, I'm tempted to say, "Americans have had it too easy, so easy that they can't accept that they're in danger. They can't set aside politics and their personal banner issues in order to deal with the pandemic." It's just not true, though. Too many Americans don't have it too easy and already were in danger even before the pandemic. I don't know why we as Americans don't have the unified vision to work together to deal with our challenges--other than the fact that we just don't have the unified consciousness now. My wife and I and our families--that's a manageable unity for me, not necessarily a controllable reality, but one that is close enough to heart and home that I at least feel kinship with. My wife and together travel a wilderness; we choose and follow our path together. Sometimes we disagree on the exact path, but agree that we are traveling together. Our children follow somewhere behind . . . maybe. We are blazing a trail, though, and follow or not, they know our direction and course. The path has its dangers and its beauty. I am not alone, though, and for that I am grateful.

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