Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
March 2020 - Volume 20, No. 3
The Covid-19 Crisis
Within a matter of hours
By now the entire planet is caught up in the outbreak of a new disease that has frightened, sickened and killed thousands upon thousands, that has already shaken our financial markets to the core, that has disrupted travel and travel plans of thousands, that has closed schools… And whatever it is, we are at least coming to realize that in ways previously unimaginable, we’re all in this together. It’s now officially a “pandemic.”
Personally, I had been planning for a couple months to fly to Florida for a week and a half to spend time with friends and family. Airline tickets had been purchased, and my itinerary was almost perfected. My work calendar had been reorganized and cleared.
But during the same time, there were storm clouds rumbling from far away “China.”People were getting very ill and dying - in very large numbers. International travel was being disrupted. The word “quarantine” showed up a lot in the news. Then it moved to Europe. Then, then, then… as if somebody pushed a giant “sync” button - it hit the United States. And my own travel plans. And I now realize I’m an older citizen (therefore more vulnerable to this virus), and more-so having “an underlying medical condition” (coronary). And, and a woefully unprepared national government. Add to that a realization of how often I touch my face. (Never in my life did I ever consider that would be important!)
Within a matter of hours, I’ve had to deal with disrupted travel plans, a new awareness of my vulnerability, and mortality, an imposed “six-foot distance” personal quarantine, and a life measured in 14 and then 30 day calendar chunks - for a God-alone-might-know period of time. I look at my refrigerator differently now. I look at my house and see lots of things that need taken care of; as synonyms of ‘incarceration’ bounce around in my head. And then an epiphany…
Being inside it myself, at first I couldn’t see it.
1) What do I do for a living?
I’m a mental health practitioner - having my private clinical practice here in my Michigan home town for 43 years now. I do marriage and relationship counseling. I’m a psychotherapist, helping people heal through life crises. I’m a mentor, guiding folks from a place of wisdom and experience. I’m a human being, knowing some (many?) of the sorrows, vulnerabilities and joys of a full life.
2) What are people often most afraid of?
- they’re afraid of abandonment and being all alone.
- they’re afraid of being overwhelmed by the conditions of the world.
It’s this fear that brings individuals and couples and marriages through my office door. And it’s their willingness to face these fears (at least in my space) that can lead to a greater understanding of their own life and a deeper connection to both meaning and purpose. After 43 years at this, I don’t burn out nor have any desire to retire. It’s what I do best, and it’s where I put my trust for the ongoing of a mature humanity. (It’s God at work.)
And so COVID-19 is simply the same thing writ large for the whole human culture, the whole planet (excluding Antarctica).
So what do we do?
1) Maybe we’re learning what real human and ethical leadership could be like. For a few months (and much longer) the primary model in Washington has been an Alfred E Newmanesque “What me worry?” model. We don’t wait till the stock market has radically tanked to see there’s a really “bad” problem out there.
The first rule for all healing practitioners and entities, known from within the ancient Hippocratic Oath - known by all medical students - “First, do no harm.” Waiting and blaming does do harm, very much harm.
2) One wicked characteristic of this little bastard (virus) is that the carriers are often themselves asymptomatic (have no symptoms or don’t even get the disease). I personally don’t display any of the symptoms, but if I’m not careful, I could still easily be a carrier - which still puts others in danger. So I still learn to wash my hands neurotically often, not touch my face, keep myself 3 feet (now it’s’ 6) from anyone I come near (can we all spell “personal quarantine”?). It’s probably not my own life I’ll save, but somebody else’s. And these days that’s a large ethical step forward.
3) All at once we’re beginning to hear “We’re all in this together.” Politics may push for divisions and borders, but healing work can bring together. Where in the past, ‘bordering’ was a reactive and phobic behavior (still is). But now, when we wall up to prevent the spread of the virus, there’s a pervasive sadness that we have to do this. When our border with Canada was just closed, President Trump was quick to affirm it wouldn’t effect ‘trade’. Will we ever learn - this should be a Human issue, not a trade issue!
4) And then there are the first responders - often whether they choose it or not. There’s a folk song I’ve heard from 9/11 about the firemen. “As we were running down the stairs, they were running up.” Somewhere in the last couple days I read the words of a weary hospital nurse in one of the CORONA-19 hot spots (I think it was in Italy) lamenting the woeful lack of medical supplies - “I know we are all going to die.” Perhaps there’ll someday be a magnificent memorial to their sacrifices.
So I’ll return to my 12’ x 13’ office space, (still just enough space for ‘personal distance’), where I’ll wrestle these things out with my people, one by one and two by two.
And maybe the world will learn, and grown up a bit more.
And as always,
And someday, hopefully soon, I’ll get that vacation trip to Florida.