So I’ve been thinking, a lot, which you wouldn’t know due to my prolonged silence.
It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say, as you also might have guessed. But my words couldn’t seem to escape, as if something has been covering my mouth, forcing them to stay inside…
I thought I was handling it okay. I mean, I’ve looked death in the eye more than twice, so I figured I could navigate a pandemic with some level of resilience.
But then I started to feel it, all of it- the rage, desperation, and pain- bubbling up as the world shut down until it inevitably exploded, and I found myself sitting in my tiny apartment, surrounded by smoke, tear gas, and dozens of police barricading my street against raging rioters ready to burn the whole neighborhood down if that’s what it took, all in the name of...justice?
That was it. I knew if I was going to survive the madness, I had to remove myself so I could catch my breath- secure my own mask first if you’ll excuse the metaphor (which it definitely is because I haven’t been able to wear a mask…don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon enough).
So I sold everything, packed up my car, and headed south.
To be clear, it wasn’t COVID, “the virus,” that I was trying to escape. It was the “COVID” we’ve given the reins to… or reign to-the one we’ve simultaneously declared our enemy and crowned our ruler.
The COVID we’ve raged war on using the same elimination approach we’ve deployed again and again, no matter how destructive the means- victory over the common enemy- over a virus, over Trump, over extremism, over white supremacy, “weapons of mass destruction”- walls to keep them out, mandates to keep us in, War on Drugs, War on Terrorism, Operation Warp Speed…
“You’re either with us or you’re against us.”
COVID is spreading faster and causing more harm than any virus we’ve ever experienced. But it can’t be conquered with good vs. evil, made right by the left, or eliminated with a vaccine. Because it’s not a virus that’s killing us.
Fear is what’s driving us further and further apart (6 feet and counting) and infecting our ability to reason…to the point that we are trusting politicians to heal us, Big Pharma to save us, and the media to tell us the truth.
What sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to consciously reflect and connect, or better stated “…our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on different situations and our deep-seated drive to link our scenario-building minds together.”
Our unbridled potential to innovate is clear. We’ve advanced technology to the point that we don’t even need to think anymore; we have the media to tell us what, Siri to tell us how, and Google to tell us why, when, and where.
But we rarely credit our intellectual achievements to their true origin: our inherent need for belonging. Even language, regardless of how or when, evolved from a desire to understand each other on a deeper level, which in turn, inspired better collaboration and creativity.
The problem is, we let our minds go to our heads and lost sight of our hearts- assigning more meaning to our personal achievements than our relationships.
The more “connected” we’ve become, the more attached to our devices, the more we’ve disconnected from our lives and detached from our relationships.
This collective disconnect has led to one of the most destructive and insidious health crises we’ve seen in decades.
And no, I’m not talking about COVID, although the two are now inextricably linked…
Loneliness: Our Nation’s Invisible Epidemic
Former United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, declared loneliness a national epidemic- as dangerous to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; twice as deadly as obesity; and directly linked to a list of life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.
And this was all before COVID hit, which we continue to combat with isolation. So now, it’s not just society perpetuating an epidemic killing hundreds of thousands of people- our leaders are mandating it.
Oh, an important side note: loneliness and the resulting illnesses substantially weaken the immune system…you know, that advanced defense network our bodies were naturally designed with to fight off viruses and such…
Divided We Fall
But let’s not get bogged down with facts. Let’s talk politics, instead. You’ll have to pick a side, though…and use your mask accordingly.
However, since I’d removed myself from the States for a spell (and the media), I didn’t know this, or at least the extent of it…until I flew back to vote.
To be clear, I considered myself a Democrat through and through, and flew home specifically to vote against a man I vehemently opposed and a party I did not support. But there was one minor issue- I looked like I did.
I had unknowingly walked into a warzone dressed as the enemy.
Due to the previously mentioned breathing issue, I resisted wearing a mask, which marked me as a Trump supporter, exposing a truth I couldn’t see before. This wasn’t an election, it was an orchestrated battle of good vs. evil. COVID had become a weapon of war, and the mask, a symbol of allegiance and a badge of honor.
You’re either with us or you’re against us.
I thought I was one of the good guys, fighting for the right side…which was the Left, right?
But the behavior I saw and experienced from my fellow democrats was anything but right. And I realized, assigning “good” and “bad” to Left and Right is no different than doing so with black and white.
So I made a decision. I will no longer prop up a two-party, winner-takes-all-system that has stripped our vote of its power, our candidates of their integrity, and pitted us against each other to the extent that “civil war” is being tossed around as a legitimate concern.
True belonging- something I have craved my entire life, but rarely felt. It is also something I have abandoned myself over and over trying to keep- pleasing, performing, settling, conforming…
Calling in Courage
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” ~ Brene Brown
And now, when even the briefest exchange can feel like a hug- the thought of alienating people I considered my tribe or losing the respect of those I admire, even if from afar, feels terrifying.
But what I see happening around me feels infinitely more so.
I know I’m not alone, and I can’t keep watching people suffer in silence because they are afraid to speak their truth, nor will I continue to betray myself by doing the same.
We have all held our breath long enough.
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
– Maya Angelou
So where is this going? I really don’t know. I don’t have the answers, but I have questions about the ones being given to me. And I won’t tell you what to believe, but I’ll tell you why I don’t believe what I’m being told.
I am not an expert, or a doctor, or a scientist. I am not a Democrat or a Republican; a racist or an anarchist, a conspiracy theorist or a conformist. And I am not sick.
I am a voice. And it’s time to exhale.