“I never thought I’d live to see a time like this…”
The words of my mentor, Dr. Paul Nguyen, rung in my ears, as I sat on the worn, black metal bench in front of my house, gazing up at the clear blue sky, noticing the wispy clouds move slowly through the atmosphere. The bench was just a few feet from the neighborhood lake. I watched waves ripple across the surface of the water in an ever-so beautiful and calculated manner. Water that is cold, but not yet frozen has a very particular appearance. It takes on a clean, silvery luster, that shines and reflects light in a brilliant fashion: nature’s mirror. Still, the portrait cannot be completed without the lush green grass in the surrounding background, playing the part of a perfect complement of color to add to the earth tones of the lake, trees, and sky. Are you convinced yet of the masterpiece that is nature? I digress, sitting outside this way has become a sort of daily routine of mine, since the quarantine began anyway. Frankly, part of me is still in disbelief with respect to our current situation. It’s incredible to recount the story of COVID-19. A virus that appears suddenly, kills thousands of people, and effectively brings the entire world to its knees. Mother Nature is beautiful indeed, but she can also be wrathful. It is utterly humbling. I suppose my disbelief is the reason why I reflect on the words of Dr. Nguyen so often, as I share his thought. I never thought I’d live to see a time like this.
Here’s a shocker: I don’t particularly enjoy social distancing…. All jokes aside, I imagine no one does (we are “social animals” after all). On that note, I am curious to see the mental health implications of the COVID pandemic. I bet the findings will be interesting to say the least (there is a reason solitary confinement exists). Nonetheless, I was initially hanging out with a select few friends, until my mother and father asked me not to because of the inherent risk, which made sense, and so I obliged. School is now completely online for the rest of the semester for essentially everyone. Individuals of many occupations are either out of a job, or working at home. People are sitting around doing nothing, which probably isn’t a good thing, given our already excessively sedentary lifestyles, but I suppose I will save that discussion for another day. I was furloughed a little over a week ago. When I told my friend, he excitedly exclaimed that I should file for unemployment. He went on to say that I could receive a check for 600 dollars a week. That is triple what I am making by actually working. Initially, I was all for it, but then I pondered: “What would be the financial repercussions against our state and federal governments if millions of individuals across the country all filed for unemployment, and qualified to receive up to 600 dollars a week, for weeks to come?”. I have to admit, that was a scary thought, and although it was a good question, that was a mental rabbit hole I most certainly did not want to go down. So, I did what any smart, compassionate, good Samaritan would: I ignored the thought and submitted my claim (you can laugh now). I have realized that many of these immediate consequences of the pandemic and societal shutdown haven’t “gotten” to me on a psychological level. There is one thing that disturbs me though. It is not COVID-19, rather, it is us.
The movie Contagion was a peculiar one. The film tells the story of a virus originating in Hong Kong becoming a deadly pandemic, essentially mirroring the unfolding of COVID-19 in a number of different ways (Even the virus came from a bat!). Many of the events in the movie have come to pass, except for the chaos, anarchy, and rebellion before the end. Watching that film, I wondered “As accurate as it has been so far, is this the next part of the story for us”. I felt a knot form in my stomach, and beads of sweat forming on my forehead. Another dangerous question, this time, I decided to implore it. From when it first arose, to the point where it took hold all across the globe, COVID-19 spurred a panic response in nearly all individuals of all nations. Everyone from all walks of life was terrified, because no one was safe. It was at this point that I saw it. The primal, instinctual tendencies of humanity coming to fruition. Individuals hoarding toiletries, household items, and even food (for no real reason at all). People fighting at big box stores for items that were available in limited quantities. There is talk of robberies and break-ins going around, so homeowners are arming their houses. We just armed ours with ADT last week. My friend tells me of how guns are sold out across the nation, and he urges me to apply for a FOID card so that I can buy a .45 and conceal it under my bed. I always wondered where the age-old adage came from, “Every man for himself”. COVID-19 answered that question for me. The saying is coming to life right before my eyes.
It all makes me so sad. I understand people are afraid and scared, and that is completely OK. We should respect ourselves enough to feel all of our emotions. However, panicking and fighting with each other is not going to help our situation. As human beings, our strength has always come from our numbers, our ability to unite for a cause. Everywhere I look now, I see the opposite. I remember first taking this all in, feeling angry, and also disheartened. I adopted a pessimistic perspective, and began to feel resentful. At a point, I had enough, and during a conversation with the father of my best friend, I told him that I thought that times like these bring out the worst in all of us. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and gave me an affirmative “No”. Startled, I looked up, we were making eye-contact now. He paused, and said, “It’s times like these that also bring out the best of us”. I was at a loss for words. I started giving it some serious thought. I thought of S.C.A.R.F.’s COVID-19 Call Center, formed purely out of necessity for community. I thought of the healthcare workers and physicians, like Dr. Nguyen, still going to work every day, in spite of the deadly risk. I thought finally of my mother, an Infectious Disease specialist, a woman on the “front-lines”, and the leader of the COVID Task Force for the entire Northwest region, risking her life and health every single day for the sake of others. Forget the Avengers, my mother is the real super hero.
Late last year, I read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In the book, Frankl posits several ideas, all of which I found to be brilliant. However, his crowning jewel assertion was his declaration and identification of, as he calls it, “The last of the human freedoms”, that being: “To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. This is our ultimate salvation, something that cannot be taken. It is a concept that sets the human soul free. What am I getting at? As individuals, we can tread our own paths, and pursue whatever we want. No one is a victim of their circumstance (The accomplishments of Frankl are proof, among plenty of other people throughout human history)! No matter how dire, how bleak the outlook, we can always choose to remain hopeful and optimistic. We can choose to do the right thing at every moment. We can choose to plan and be disciplined as opposed to being lazy and aimless. We can overcome our instinctive drives, our insecurities, and our fears and worries. We all have that potential, every single one of us. I know the Dr. Zarqa Imdads of the world will not rest until this pandemic is beaten into the floor. I have faith in them, I have faith in us, and for the first time in a long time, I have faith in myself.
This post was written by S.C.A.R.F. Ambassador Sibghatallah Imdad