Ten Thousand Days

Fragile

March 23, 2020

Photo: Antonio Poveda Montes

Day 2040 – Day 2046

Last week I was talking with a friend and what has struck me with the way things have gone down this week, is how fragile we are.

We have become a world that is pretty smug with all our machine-learning and virtual assistants.  We have more inequality than we have had in modern times, but we are a more affluent world than we’ve ever been.  We’ve gotten used to everything on demand and innovation solving all our problems.  We are pretty self-satisfied and we think we’ve got it all figured out.  We see people acting in a certain way and we think we have their number. We have built skyscrapers and driverless transportation systems.  We fly through the air, stopping here and there and having weekend breaks to Vegas, Vienna, Barcelona, Zanzibar and beyond.  We’ve got it made and we are the Apex predator.  We’re the big cheese, the big man/woman/person on campus.  In our smugness, we have forgotten just how fragile and precious this little life we have been gifted really is.  And we have not only killed God.  We have become God.  When Oppenheimer quoted the Baghavad Gita in reference to the testing of the first atomic bomb, we should have learned our lesson about replacing God with technology.  As Oppenheimer said, quoting Shiva:  “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The fact is that right now, our faith in technology is failing us.  There are not enough ventilators, beds, or PPE for our medical staff.  We are running out, globally, of a key chemical used for testing. We believed in the myth of technology but planned for Amber risk.  We never planned for Catastrophic scenarios, because technology would save us first.

And the second fact that is salient right now is that with all our technology and all our wealth, we are but a fragile bit of sentient organic matter.  Our worth to the world, if we boiled down our elements, would be just a few dollars.  With all our knowledge and all our money, all our perceived power over one another, in a swift movement across the planet, an organism 1/1000 the size of a human hair is taking us out by the thousands, perhaps the hundreds of thousands, or millions, before we’re done.

Woah, wait, you came here for gratitude, a bit of joy, to feel connected and served.  Well, if we can dwell in the sublime truth of our fragility we will see, without hesitation, how connected we all are.  Only by honouring our connection, being laid out in stark detail in every ER in the world, will we survive this moment in history.  Never before in my lifetime has it been so clear: What I do, what you do, affects the rest of the world.

Maybe the profound truth was revealed to some of us early on.  But the herd? Well the human psyche is fascinating. When faced with our powerlessness, the first thing most of us do is to deny reality.

As late as mid-week last week there was still a cultural story here in Canada that we had to somehow waste energy and precious time managing the threat that those who called in sick could be taking a free ride, bunking off of work.  Within two days our city was in a state of emergency and everything but essential services were supposed to shut. There are fines being imposed for failure to apply social distancing and self-isolation.

Borrowing from Kubler Ross, when a threat comes upon us we go between panic (bargaining) and denial for the first while.  Because of the denial, we are often forced into situations we didn’t choose, for our own good.  I think of the way lower Manhattan, where I lived and worked, was closed down to anyone but residents/first responders during 9/11.  Some people were still in denial, heading to work, even as people were fleeing the area below Christopher St/4th Ave. The police, and then the National Guard, turned people back.

Denial can look a lot like a good sense of humour.   I am all for a good laugh – even gallows humour.  The laugh fortifies us as we slowly let the truth sink in.

What comes after our panicked bargaining response and our denial (which seems to resurface as we bounce between emotions) is probably depression.  This week, when I have tried to meditate, I find it incredibly difficult.  My heart is so heavy with what is happening in our world.  In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve stopped leading the news with global statistics.  The numbers are just too big for us to process in this COVID-19 pandemic.  The last time I recall it being the lead, we were talking about just over 100K cases.  I found today’s numbers.  We are over 400K, globally, of all the cases confirmed.  I would not be surprised if the number of presumptive cases for which tests are not offered is an order of magnitude higher.

Denial will kill so many people.

What worries me is what comes next.  When the anger hits us all, how then will we cope?  I can only hope that we will remember our humanity, then.

I’ve seen some people out and about, taking social distancing and isolation very lightly, even in the midst of a state of emergency.  Non-essential businesses are still open.  When I’m fighting to breathe or my friend or family member is fighting to breathe, how will I forgive that person who just had to go skiing or go to the island for a weekend getaway, or congregate with friends at the beach to watch the sunset, or take their car in for servicing – all during a state of emergency or disaster?

My anger is already here.  I’m locked in my house and I’m going to give into it with a full force so that I can work it through and move on to acceptance.  I’m grateful for a lifetime of personal growth work that gives me the tools and the resilience to meet my dragon and let her rip, without smashing up someone’s car, their reputation or a friendship.  Well, let’s be honest here.  If you are someone who was cavalier in this crisis, the fate of our friendship is already sealed.  Perhaps you will be right and I was over reacting.

I would love to be wrong.

And let’s not even begin to talk about whether our unsustainable lifestyles have had a part to play in this, when so many of us have been sounding the alarm for decades.  I can’t talk about it, but I will feel it and move through it.

I’m grateful to have seen societies with weak infrastructure, many times.  I have seen how fragile are the systems on which we rely.  I’m grateful to have studied complex emergency and been a Risk Manager/Business Continuity and Crisis Manager in a global organization.  I know how to plan for the worst, even if it is unlikely to happen.  I know how to escalate response.  I know all this and even I was thrown by how fast we went from business as usual to High Risk with preparations for a Catastrophic scenario.  I’m grateful to be humbled.

At the moment there is not a lot of joy in my life except in being able to come together with others in solidarity and to attempt to be of service to others.  I fear for the world when the anger hits.  My hope is that we can all remember our Oneness and move through the anger and sadness without violence.

Our bodies, our psyches, our world is fragile.

If you are feeling it like I am, and you are being crushed under the weight of what is happening, if you are saddened or furious, I invite you to go deep into it and feel it.  Feel it for all it’s worth and let it give you the wisdom that is at the heart of every phase of our collective grief.  But, please, don’t take it out on those around you, no matter what jerks they’ve been.  I invite you to bring your darkness here, and let it rip in the comments. Bring it here, lay it all down and let it go.  My comment section can take it.  Your partner’s face, your neighbour’s car – they’re off limits.  Use my comment section.  I won’t publish it if you want to vent. It goes into moderation already; I’ll clean it up later.

As we said, in Manhattan, in the days following 9/11:  Take care of yourself.  Take care of each other.

In our lifetimes, the stakes have not been higher.

 

Photo: Filip Mroz

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

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