Finding Purpose in the Pandemic

Published March 31, 2020 for the Williamson Herald.

I remember exactly when the panic first hit me.

It was Thursday, March 5, the day the first Tennessee case of COVID-19 was announced to be right here in Franklin. That was the day I began washing my hands with scalding water for at least 20 seconds and disinfecting everything I touched.

The world turned upside down quickly from there. Sports leagues canceled and pushed back their seasons, concerts and festivals were scrapped en masse, and churches began meeting via online livestreams.

While many people quickly began avoiding public outings, it took others several weeks to comprehend the severity of the pandemic, in which the United States currently leads the world with the most reported and confirmed cases. Of concern is the virus’ long incubation period, which means some may be infected but not show symptoms for two to 10 days after infection, allowing them to have contact with many before experiencing symptoms.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force, has been a voice of caution and realism throughout the outbreak and spread in the U.S.

He warns some areas may see as bad a spread as New York, where, as of March 31, just under half of the United States’ 160,000 cases are located and over 1,300 have died.

In Tennessee, numbers of cases continue to grow at a double-digit rate each day.

Infectious disease experts say the disease is far from contained, and we’ll likely be battling the virus over the next year, with other rounds of physical distancing measures necessary before a vaccine can be developed, tested appropriately and widely distributed.

It is a grim reality that seemed to happen overnight. Still, there are reasons for optimism.

Within this community, I’ve seen a generosity of spirit in the past month unlike before. Food drives and pantries are popping up to feed children who relied on free and reduced lunches from schools. Friends post daily on social media the local restaurants they’re supporting through takeout and delivery. Photographers are using their talents and time to go door to door in neighborhoods and shoot creative photos of families desperate for a distraction from bad news. People right here in Williamson County are busy sewing masks for the medical community and donating blood.

When I go outside, I see people smiling and waving from a distance with a sense of kinship that feels deeper and more serious than the Southern kindness I’ve experienced since moving here.

Many of us are searching for purpose through these difficult days. A shaky understanding of who we are and what we are doing has been brought to light by the implosion of the world we once knew.

As an adult, I have my own method for getting through difficult situations; besides prayer, I try to simplify seemingly impossible situations by viewing them as an opportunity to build character.

When I’ve been hurt by others, frustrated by situations and disappointed in my own failures, I take a deep breath and think about how I can use a circumstance to change and grow.

We cannot control the actions of others, but we can control how we conduct ourselves. We cannot control what the world throws at us, but we can control our reaction and our emotions. Here are a couple of ways you can seek purpose during this time.

Follow the news, but don’t let it overwhelm you
I know both people who have been following the latest news obsessively and those who have buried their heads in the sand. This is a time in history where journalism proves to be of national worth. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest details in order to make informed decisions, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the TV running all day. Set times to check the news, like in the morning and afternoon.

Get outside at least once each day
Unless you are sick, try to get outside once each day for an hour. If you live in a particularly crowded area, try doing some morning and midday stretches on the porch. It’s important to remind ourselves the seasons still change; the blossoming buds and chattering birds show us the natural world still retains order in the midst of chaos.

Protect your mental health
We all know to protect our physical health, but are you taking care of your emotions? It may be tempting to reach out to anyone you can for comfort, but remember who your true friends are and lean on each other. Spending time with friends through video calls or at a safe distance can provide extra support right now.

Keep a record
Even if you don’t keep a diary, there is utility in recording events as they happen. I’ve been writing down all the good things I’ve enjoyed each day, as well as my deepest fears. Through writing, I release some of that anxiety. Taking photos and videos is another great way to record current events.

Spend time meditating
Whether it’s daily prayer or meditation, spend some time each day quieting your soul and just listening. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve reverted into an old routine. Each morning, I read a devotion before I get on my knees, bow my head and pray.

As we walk through this season together, let us remember that our individual actions affect the whole, now more than ever. Let’s use this uncertain time to focus on what we can control: our ability to treat each other with greater kindness, respect and appreciation for the value of life.

When we come out on the other end of this pandemic, life will likely never be the same. It is up to each of us to see that it changes for the better.

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