I swear I have been operating in suspended animation this past week. There are only one or two small things that are different from the past 52 weeks, so I am not sure why I have experienced this week so vastly differently, but I have. The one or two things include an announcement from the CDC saying that it is OK for those of us who have had our vaccine to resume life without masks, including gathering in groups and hugging and a change in medication.

Is it possible that we are actually on the ‘other side’ of this pandemic?  I am saying this to myself, not wanting to jinx what seems to be evidence that the virus is losing its grip on humanity. As if my keeping it to myself would somehow influence the arc of destruction that has left its mark indelibly on so many lives.

Low Tide Reveals Much

It is like when the tide is out. What is typically obscured by the water is revealed in stark display. One such reveal has been politicians. I admit to being dumbfounded by the lack of compassion or empathy offered by some Federally-elected senators and congresspeople, but I cannot ignore it. It is easy to dismiss the blustering of politicians who fall somewhere on the continuum of deniers to enablers. It is harder to just move on with so much death and loss that needs to be acknowledged and grieved. And mark my words, we must acknowledge and grieve the casualties of this pandemic.

As COVID recedes, the cracks in our public and private healthcare systems become even more evident. Local support for public health has eroded and we are left with contradictory policies and guidelines, not to mention insufficient funding and poorly trained staff to oversee programs. There is an art to governmental budgeting. The buck is passed from one tax line-item to another, from one funding program to another, from one budget unit to another. What is lost in this is the individual and community that should be the beneficiary of the line-item. Case in point, masks.

We Need Both-And Strategies

Leadership must come from a national source and standards must be established for all to measure services against. This will anger some who want to make the case that local needs are often ignored in order to fit into some national norm. This is not an all-or-nothing proposition!  It must be seen as a both-and strategy.

Sadly, those with the least expertise frequently dictate outcomes. It is clear that deferring to local authorities without sufficient oversight results in poor care all round. It is also clear that what is life-changing in Poughkeepsie is nonsense in Pima. There is no end to stories of heroes stepping up and meeting the needs of friends and neighbors. But why did they need to do that in the first place?  Please – I am celebrating each and every one of them who took it upon him or herself to address the gaps, but shouldn’t we take a look at the fact it needed to be done at all?  We need an honest assessment of where we fell short, not a glossing over.

The Gift We Have Been Given

I believe we have been given a real gift with this pandemic and I am not ready to move on just yet. We have the time and space to assess what is important individually and in terms of the communities in which we participate. In this period of suspension before we resume our “normal” lives, I propose we systematically identify and address our vulnerabilities.

You can do this yourself as well as with your family members and others who are in your circles of care. Here are the 10 core areas that impact your quality of life and the quality of life for those you love. How would you answer these questions?

  1. Housing – is there enough housing?  Is it economically sustainable?
  2. Healthcare – are there enough providers?  How far do you have to travel to be seen?  Do you have a hospital within 30 minutes of where you live?
  3. Transportation – how many different modes of transportation are available to you in your community?  How frequently does public transportation run between where you live and where you buy food, worship, buy clothes, enjoy entertainment, get healthcare?
  4. Nutrition – can you obtain fresh food year-round?  Is it reasonably priced?
  5. Employment – Are jobs available that pay a living wage for where you live?  What is the availability of WiFi?
  6. Recreation – Do you have access to parks, facilities, events that stimulate you?  How far must you travel to be in nature?
  7. Spiritual Needs—How tolerant is your community of different spiritual traditions?
  8. Arts—What opportunities are available for creating, participating in or attending activities related to music, dance, cultural/traditional expressions, sculpture, painting, TV, film, poetry, written/fine arts?
  9. Life-long Learning — Do you have opportunities to share knowledge either through peer-to-peer platforms or in group? Access to a variety of knowledge-based delivery systems (e.g., in-person, web-based, audio or written)? Opportunities to cultivate wisdom (archiving, curating, preserving?
  10. Inter-generational Collaboration- Do you have opportunities for cross-generational activities? Opportunities for shared care (e.g., young adults providing services to elders; elders providing day-care to children)? How and where is ageism intentionally addressed through education and opportunities for inter-generational teaching?

A Blueprint for Moving Forward

Depending on the answers you came up with, you will probably find that there are gaps in some of these areas. Because we are in this space of possibility, we can put ideas forward that just a year ago would have seemed foolish. Things that were utterly ridiculous at one time (wearing masks?) have become the norm and income streams for those who are crafty. Things that are based on pseudo-science are easily tagged and dismissed (e.g., injecting bleach into the human body to kill the germs) and many of us have become walking encyclopedias on COVID and how it affects the human body.

What do you want to keep and what are you looking forward to returning to?  I am going to ponder these questions in terms of my own lifestyle and in terms of what I hope to see change in my community. Here are some of my initial contemplations:

Things I Had to Change and Now Want to Keep After COVID

  • Working at home
  • Awareness of physical proximity of others
  • Hand sanitizer EVERYWHERE

Things I Want to Come Back the Way They Were

  • Movies
  • Restaurants
  • Travel

Things that Need to Change for All of Us

  • Access to Housing
  • Access to Healthcare
  • Political Accountability

We are closer to the end of this pandemic, but we are not there yet. Please stay vigilant. Continue to wear a mask in places where others either need a role model or need protection. When you are eligible, please get the vaccine. If you don’t want the vaccine, please stay by yourself.

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