Our world is steeped in fear right now. And frankly, rightly so. There are a lot of scary and difficult things that are happening right now. But I had an experience recently that really pushed me to change how I feel about this whole COVID situation, and more importantly, what I am focusing on, and how I am reacting to it.
The worst finally happened, and it was a big wake-up call for me. On October 2nd, the landlord at 1:00 pm in the afternoon slipped a notice under our door. It was a notice informing us that there was a confirmed case of COVID-19 in our building. I thought to myself, “It’s finally happening. It’s here.”
We weren’t told who it was or on which floor, but the building we live in is quite small. I’d known for the last few months that it was pretty likely at some point there would be a case in our close community; it was sort of inevitable living in the city. As the numbers in our city steadily rose I got more and more worried.
And yet, I held out this hope that it wouldn’t be in our building, that it wouldn’t literally be on our door step. But here it was.
We didn’t panic per say, but we immediately became very worried. We didn’t know what would happen, had we somehow been exposed? Had we chatted in the hall with this person? What would happen if we somehow got sick and were stuck in this small apartment? What if there was a breakout throughout the building? We were scared, I was scared.
About 2 days after receiving the notice, I came to realize the error in my thinking.
I realized we had automatically switched into safety mode – we had reacted out of fear. When presented with albeit scary news, we jumped head first into planning for the worst mode, which stemmed from fear, and the drive for self-preservation.
And while it is understandable and normal for us to have had a fear reaction, what would really have been so much better in this situation would have been to ask, “What can I do to help these people who are struggling right now?”, or even merely thinking “I hope those people make it through this okay and have the support that they need”.
I found myself thinking, “If it were me and not them, I would want people to support us, to check in and to see if we were okay.”
I realized we needed to react out of kindness and not only out of fear. I could not let my fear get the best of me and prevent me from being kind to my neighbors. Here I am someone who considers myself a spiritual and religious person who was not living out, “love thy neighbor”.
For the past 6 months the media and news, have been plagued with either overly fear-filled messages that scare the crap out of you when you hear them, or such a lack of information or sense of fear that you are left worrying that the politicians aren’t keeping us safe or taking things seriously enough. Either way we are bombarded with alarm bells all day long, and so we have become primed for a fear response.
We are also being fed messages that promote ideals like self-sufficiency and self-preservation, instead of focusing on ideals like charity, sheltering the hurt, or community support. This is reflected in the kinds of the support programs that have been created which leave many stranded or barely scrapping by. For example, instead of the government creating stronger supports for those without food who need to isolate they say things like, “well make sure to stock up your pantry for 2 weeks” or “well, order your groceries from your corporate owned grocery store online and have them delivered”. Not acknowledging that many people do not have the money to purchase 2 weeks worth of food and that even the food banks are running low on supplies.
We can’t even seem to convince people to wear masks unless we tell them it is only to keep themselves safe!
The message boils down to, “take care of yourself first and every person for themselves”.
So, after all of that, when we are presented with a bad situation like a neighbor getting covid, we react out of a state of fear, coupled with ideas of self-preservation and sufficiency, and things like kindness most often get forgotten.
The truth is if we as a society reacted with kindness and compassion, instead of fear, this entire COVID situation would be a lot less scary for all of us. I’m not saying we should not be careful, no we should each take measures to keep ourselves safe, and fear can be useful to help remind us of the danger that exists in order to prompt us to take those precautions. But, we also need to think about keeping others safe which includes trying to be creative in order to find ways to be kind, supportive, generous, and giving. To make sure everyone has what they need.
I’m not perfect. I am here to admit I had the wrong reaction, but I took the time to push myself to think through it, and to see it from the other side. Wouldn’t I want someone to do the same for me, for my loved ones, and for my friends?
After I got word of who it was that was sick, I left a card under our neighbor’s door saying that we were sorry to hear that they were unwell and I left my phone number in case they needed anything dropped off at their door. Here was this young couple with a toddler and a dog cooped up in a tiny apartment, no yard and no balcony. Instead of being completely cut-off from others what they really needed was support. Was their fridge full? Did they need diapers?
They texted me later that evening thanking me for the card and for reaching out, and asked for only one thing: bananas for their toddler who “loves them”.
The next day while my husband ran another errand I asked him to pick up a big bunch of bananas for their little one. He brought them home and we popped them in a bag and left them on their door handle. I texted them to let them know they were there. They texted me back, “thank you kind neighbors”.
It was truly that simple. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t difficult, and most importantly it didn’t even involve risking exposure or transmission. What this experience truly brought home for me is that being kind is so incredibly easy. There are just so many ways we as individuals, but also we as a society can do more to help other people.
I challenge you to see the simple solutions that exist, the simple kindnesses that can really impact someone else’s experience of this pandemic. Sometimes, all it takes is a hand written card and a bunch of bananas to put a little more kindness in the world, to put a smile on a child’s face.