Getting Back to “Normal”: Privilege in the Time of COVID-19Melissa C Palmer, LCSW, ACHP-SW, APHSW-C, JD May 5, 2020
I have heard many times how those around me are looking forward to getting back to “normal”. When I have asked people to clarify, “normal” means being able to go out without worrying about being careful, not having to wear protective equipment, taking a bike ride at a moment’s notice, or heading out for Saturday evening dinner and movie. For others it is travel to Hawaii for spring break. For many of us, we miss the life we enjoyed and took for granted prior to the pandemic. We grieve the loss of trips cancelled, birthdays celebrated alone or with our immediate household, or day trips to the mountains. To be sure, the past few months has been a time of tremendous loss and loneliness.
For those who are seniors, who have physical/cognitive/psychological differences, or who have a chronic and progressive illness, what we are experiencing in the past few weeks is their “normal” every day. They have grieved the loss of independence and autonomy; they experience daily loneliness and isolation. They are fearful daily of being exposed to a virus or illness that could compromise their health and take their lives.
Some people find it challenging to walk in a store easily, and they must be careful about exposure to others. People who are fragile need to plan ahead, ask for help, and be at the mercy of others. They have had to adapt and learn how to cope with being unable to navigate stairs, not being able to hold their children or grandchildren, and drive themselves to the grocery store.
My wish is that humanity is able to use this as a time of reflection, gratitude and insight. We can choose to return to our “normal” lives, or we can take the lessons we learned to be more compassionate and understanding of others’ daily struggles. We can be mindful and recognize our privilege as humans without serious challenges by realizing that our abilities are not to be taken for granted. Remember how this time feels for you, and increase your empathy for others who are isolated and otherwise challenged.
Be kind and patient with the person in a scooter who is taking a while to unload their groceries. Give the senior at the crosswalk the extra 20 seconds it takes for them to make it across the road. Ask how you can be helpful and make another person’s life a little easier. Mow the lawn for a homebound neighbor. A little kindness can make all the difference in someone else’s day. And remember that “normal” is relative and subjective.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi