On coronavirus and emotional care

I am writing this from home, having returned from the Haverford campus this morning and participated in a backpacking trip to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia from Friday to Tuesday (yesterday). It was my first time backpacking, both challenging and fun, and I thought that a few days in the wilderness followed by some relaxing days at home for the rest of spring break would refresh my worn-down spirit for the latter half of the semester. Instead, after having no internet access while on the trip, I discover upon greedily reading the news on the car ride back yesterday that the coronavirus epidemic (now pandemic) was spreading to an alarming extent and that school districts like Lower Merion (nearby Haverford) and colleges like Amherst and Harvard were shutting down.

I dreaded the prospect of Haverford sending us home as well, selfishly hoped that it wouldn’t, but knew it would and rightfully must happen. Even before receiving the email from Haverford’s president that announced the college’s plan to convert all classes to a digital platform for at least three weeks and to minimize the number of students on campus, I packed this morning for the ride home as if I would be staying at home for an extended period of time.

Today I’ve felt sadness, shock, anger, frustration, intense worry, general anxiety and confusion about what going to happen next. I compulsively check my email repeatedly for any updates from professors and college admin and other people about how to navigate the next few weeks. I spent some hours reading Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, a novel by my favorite author which I have long wanted to read, and then lay in bed listening to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, which I had been analyzing in my tonal harmony class. At some point I just started crying into my pillow – why am I “coming to age” in such times, why has such an awesome semester of climate organizing and musical performance among other things been forcibly disrupted, why is this coronavirus pandemic happening in the first place?

As a climate activist, I have spoken often of our world being in “crisis,” but I did not imagine feeling such “crisis” so acutely now. Perhaps, grimly, I should take this as “practice” for moments of crisis to come, if global climatic systems pass (or have already passed) their tipping point. Though the coronavirus pandemic is not directly related to the climate crisis, the same faulty political, economic, and social systems (such as public health systems) that have posed complications and hindrances to adequate U.S. response to the pandemic are also what have prevented adequate responses to the climate crisis and the environmental and social injustices it entails. I have the privilege of being able to return to my home, to have basic needs provided for, to afford medical care if I do get sick, to not have to worry too much about a severe infection myself due to my youth and general health. Many people in this country – and many college students also mandated to leave their campuses – could not say the same. Crises like these impact people in jarringly unequal ways, usually exacerbating already existing economic and social inequities. And sadly, worrisomely, they may become more frequent in the years to come.

In the next few weeks, while adapting to taking online classes from home, I commit to caring for myself, for my family, for my close friends and friendly acquaintances, and for all the other people in the local and global communities I inhabit who are also living in these uncertain times. “Social distancing” does not necessarily mean social hermitage; the plethora of cellular and internet technologies that keep us connected with one another even across great distances are tools we can use to our advantage. And sometimes I might not want to chat with anyone (I am energetically introverted), and that is okay too. Amidst all the well-informed talk about washing hands and not touching faces and monitoring our physical symptoms, we must also remember to care for ourselves and one another emotionally in this crisis, for that is what will give us strength to endure.

I think I shall write more in my time at home, whether in words or in music. Creating takes so much energy for me, such that I often think I can’t make the time to do it, and yet it often ends up being cathartic and healing. So, expect to hear more from me here some point soon. And if you ever need anything, feel free to reach out. I will do my best to support you in whatever ways I can, even if it’s just a listen and a virtual hug.

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