Pandemic Woes and Worries, Yet Wonderment

    Over the past year we’ve all been living a surreal and unsettling existence wrought by the Covid-19 virus.

     This most unwelcome ‘visitor’ to our tiny planet inflicted a stifling and lethal pandemic on our species. In a rare occurrence in our multi-millennial history, every man, woman and child throughout the world has been affected by this unrelenting microscopic foe.

    We are all inconvenienced, many are troubled or weary, and others are overwrought. Millions of people have fallen ill worldwide, almost 3 million have died, and countless are in mourning.  

      Life has been difficult for everyone, people living alone, children out of school learning remotely, parents overwhelmed, businesses shuttered, bills and debts accruing. We are all affected but alas, not equally: the poor, the downtrodden and exploited; the physically and mentally ill; the elderly, the isolated and lonely, have borne the worst burdens.

     Our moods and opinions change as we get daily conflicting information (and misinformation) about the virus and variants, and about our future. There is thus confusion and uncertainty.

      Our previous lives also had uncertainties, yet we enjoyed our pleasures and cherished our loved ones, faced and dealt with problems, and we planned for upcoming events. But this virus has heightened our insecurities and fears.

     We long for a return to our previous lifestyles, we worry about “when” and especially “if,” and we’re wary and vigilant. The virus has indeed taken its toll, at least temporarily.

    Despite my Jewish folkloric tendency not to say anything ‘too optimistic’ about the future (inviting the evil eye’s bad luck), I am hereby departing from that script: In spite of serious problems in our world I am actually optimistic about life and humanity

     We humans have largely coped and adapted well during this pandemic. We have learned to employ hygienic procedures like hand-washing, social distancing, masks and other related behaviors. We’ve adapted to these mandates of science, coped and remained positive. 

     We have witnessed the inspiring work of many “heroes” in our midst: physicians, nurses, others in health-related positions, and others who have had to put themselves in danger, like police, firemen, drivers, deliverers, caretakers, cleaners and others.

     Public and private schools at all levels of education will soon be reopening for in-person learning, to the benefit of millions of children, youth and young adults, and to the relief of stressed parents.  

     People have shown initiative and resilience in adapting to restricted circumstances, and made imaginative uses of increased time at home. They(we) have pursued old and new interests and hobbies, read or listened to books and podcasts, taken zoom courses on subjects as varied as yoga, mindfulness, Tai Chi, cooking, singing, music, painting and languages.

    People are coping with social isolation and need for human contact by phoning, emailing and texting, zooming and FaceTime-ing, to mention a few widely-used communication modes. Granted, these can’t replace close proximity, but they do provide heart-warming stimulation.

    We no longer take for granted the positives in our lives, which we cherish even more. We are a social species, and we sorely miss the warm interpersonal feelings which bind of us together as friends, family members, colleagues and neighbors. We long for in-person conversations and communing, group activities and shared meals, movies and concerts, even working!

     Private businesses, retail outlets and restaurants have faced tough times, yet they have shown flexibility and creativity in changing to meet the new circumstances.

     A new administration in Washington has taken hold of its leadership responsibilities in response to the pandemic and other important areas, and bringing back an ethos of civility. 

     Science and human creativity have again inspired us by developing safe and effective vaccines against the coronavirus in record times. Scientists, university laboratories, private pharmaceutical companies and government initiatives have competed and cooperated, enabling these remarkable achievements.

     In this same vein, NASA scientists and engineers enabled the Mars Rover “Perseverance” and astronauts to accomplish a perfect landing on a miniscule area of terrain, after a six months long space journey over hundreds of millions of miles. 

     We miss viewing the works of artistic creativity, but many of these have been made available on Zoom, YouTube, streaming services and other platforms. We can avidly appreciate the cultural parts of our lives while looking forward to in-person viewing artistic works in museums and galleries, cinema and drama, live concerts and performances.

      Over the past months, I have personally “attended” live concert performances by such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Creedance Clearwater Revival, the Eagles, Yo Yo Ma, Audra MacDonald, Renee Fleming, Louis Armstrong, Madonna, Paul Robeson, SuperTramp, Ella Fitzgerald, Carol King, Paul Simon, Sting, David Bowie, Pavarotti and so many others. I’ve seen live operatic performances and symphonies, ballet dancers and rappers, exciting plays, musicals and films. 

      Like many of you, I have been reading more (audibly as well) and listening to podcasts. Two recent books are particularly relevant in discussing ‘the good stuff’ in our lives. One is entitled “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” by Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard, and the other is “A Good Time to Be Born,” by Dr. Perri Klass of NYU. Both give readers optimism about how far we (humanity) have come in child and adult health, education, the sciences, arts and literature, and yes, even in the reduction of violence.

      Terrible things are still happening in this world, some indeed pandemic-related, and many others due to our human frailties. I am not a Pollyanna, nor am I an alarmist.  

      Martin Luther King’s memorable injunction that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice” is valid, and I humbly offer in more prosaic words, “the arc of humanity bends towards benevolence and progress.” 

      We are impatient, but the world doesn’t change “on a dime.” It takes hard work over years as opposed to days or months. We must, individually and internationally, 1) work together in the face of our challenges to accomplish the fruits of resilience (modifying our behaviors and creating vaccines in overcoming the coronavirus); 2) apply our profound human cognition and creativity to bring about great achievements in Science and the Arts; 3) concentrate on personal acts of kindness and benevolence, our “Positive Emotional Footprint.”

     If we are lucky, the fact that all of humanity has been enduring and grappling with this pandemic will be a watershed moment, a realization that we need each other to live in harmony.

     Dr. King also memorably stated (and sang), “We Shall Overcome!”

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