On Living in a Pandemic

Fear and anxiety surrounding the coronavirus may feel all-consuming, but it has never been more important to embrace that uncertainty.


photo by D. Crickets

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, nearly all activity on the NASH campus — before, during, and after school hours, weekends included — has ceased until further notice.

When Dr. McGahee came on the PA system last Friday and announced that North Allegheny would close its doors for the next two weeks due to the spread of the coronavirus, the atmosphere of the classroom I was sitting in shifted in a way I’ll most likely remember for a long time.

Some kids were excited for the spontaneous break. Some looked indifferent, as if they knew it was coming. Some, like me, felt their stomachs drop, full uncertainty and worry.

I was scared of what the school closure really meant. It meant that the virus we had all seen plaguing nations around the world had finally come to us, and it meant we could no longer pretend this wasn’t happening.

In so many ways, that’s terrifying. Just in the past week, school trips had been canceled, spring sports were dramatically impacted, and events around the world were postponed. And now, schools all over the country were closing. Any peace we gained from a sense of normalcy was abruptly torn away.

It’s easy to allow that fear to consume us because, while we now know that this pandemic is actually affecting our community, we don’t know much else. No one knows how this is going to end, and that unfortunate fact remains constant no matter how many times you watch the news or scroll through Twitter.

Maybe I’m the wrong person to be writing this, because I cannot pretend that I have not felt immense anxiety in the past days. I can’t claim that I’m not worried about my or my family’s health.

I’m scared and I’m disappointed and I’m a little paralyzed. Most people are, and that’s okay. Those emotions are human. But what is also tremendously human, at least in my experience, is perseverance. I’m way too stubborn to give in to those uncertainties, just as you should be.

Of course, we should take the coronavirus seriously. This includes conservatively choosing when to go out, staying in as much as you can, respecting government mandates, and washing your hands.

But when you’re already doing all you can, there’s no need to keep panicking. As an ordinary citizen, it is not your responsibility to be exhausted with thoughts of the coronavirus all the time. 

If we can hope to find any peace during the coronavirus outbreak, we must embrace the odd feelings that it will bring.”

So, in celebration of that innately human perseverance, if we cannot be consumed with this pandemic twenty-four hours a day and the rest of our lives have practically ceased, we can do so much more than worry. 

For example, I can read a book for fun– something I haven’t done since winter break. I can teach myself a few more songs on the ukulele I like to amateurly play in my free time. I can try my very best to bake cookies, or catch up on a show I’ve been dying to watch on Netflix.

Most importantly, I can take a second to breathe, which feels like a luxury I haven’t been afforded in a long time. In the vicious cycle of school, homework, athletics, familial responsibility, and work, I found myself spending every week trying to just make it through.

I’m certainly not saying that there is a silver lining in a pandemic, but if I were forced to find one, I would point to some unexpected downtime as a gift. 

I watched a movie with my little brother over the weekend. Before Friday, it seemed like I hadn’t gotten the chance to have a proper conversation with him in a week, and suddenly, with my schedule miraculously free, I could actually spend time with him. I’m sure this act may seem impossibly small to some people, but it temporarily eased a lot of my anxieties.

So much learning and productivity can happen inside of our homes. We have technology and endless resources. Take advantage of it. Try something new, or simply do something you love. Spend quality time with your family. Make sure that, for at least the next two weeks, you’re not just people passively coexisting in a house together.

If we can hope to find any peace during the coronavirus outbreak, we must embrace the odd feelings that it will bring. You’re going to feel uncertain, and you may feel scared. It’s natural to feel disappointed when things you were excited about are canceled. It’s normal to worry about everyone’s health.

Feel those things. Recognize that you are not alone. Accept them. And move on. Do things in spite of them. If you look close enough, current events are always going to be horrifying.

In 1948, C.S. Lewis wrote a short essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age,” and I think, in a comforting yet considerably pessimistic way, he summarized it best. Lewis wrote, “It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances.”

I’m not sure why those words seem to help, but they do. To me, they say to be careful and stay safe, but not to whimper in the face of the coronavirus. They tell me that although a lot has changed, my everyday actions are still in my control.

Lewis also wrote, “They may break our bodies… but they need not dominate our minds.”

Sure, he was talking about atomic bombs, but I think the quotation is just as applicable to the coronavirus. It doesn’t have to taint our every thought. In fact, for our own good, we cannot let it.

As long as we can be kind to one another, try our best to help those who may be less fortunate, and take care of ourselves physically and mentally, we’ll be okay. 

The coming weeks may be difficult, but there is still a lot of hope, so don’t let the fear dominate your mind.