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In the midst of a pandemic, some are taking a sigh of relief

picture of Des Cooper
Courtesy of Des Cooper
Writer Desiree Cooper, who lived and worked in Detroit for years, now resides in Virginia Beach with her two elderly parents, both of whom have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

As hard as this time is, some have found the experience of physical distancing offers unexpected opportunities. Detroit writer Desiree Cooper is riding out the virus as the full-time caregiver for two parents with dementia in Virginia Beach. She recently wrote an essay about what slowing down and staying home has meant for her. 

Once again, race and class have become the divide between life and death as the black community bears the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. Low-wage workers and working poor—many of whom are people of color—are stuck in “essential” undervalued jobs, having to risk it all for the convenience of the rest of us. Meanwhile, those of means are watching Netflix, stockpiling goods and keeping a social distance in a comfortable bubble. 

So, it’s not easy for the luckiest to admit that what they are feeling in this time of terror. It’s not fear, but a tremendous sense of relief. For some, world has finally stopped its mad spinning, they are not sorry for the chance to jump off.

I have a relative with several chronic illnesses, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Over the course of only three weeks working from home, his vitals have improved and his need for medication has dropped. 

“Working from home has changed everything,” he said. “I was too busy before to plan and cook meals. Now that I’m not just grabbing convenience foods, my blood sugar has leveled off and I’m losing weight.” 

There is much pain in our lives these days. But for many, there’s a respite from a toxic life.

There is much pain in our lives these days. But for many, there’s a respite from a toxic life.

Another dear friend could barely stand going to work every day. For her, the quarantine has been a game changer. She is working from home, but not having to actually show up to the office has made the work more tolerable. Her stress is down, and productivity is up.

“I’m pampering myself,” she said. For her, pampering includes working on a project she’d shoved aside for years. “I’m doing lots of self-care. I’ve even taken a couple of baths rather than showers. What a luxury.” 

Another friend is very dedicated to her job—so much so that taking time off was problematic. Last month, she was facing the daunting task of transitioning her parents into assisted living. Even after the emotional move, she still had to go through their old apartment and empty its contents before mid-April. She’s one of countless women for whom finding a work/family balance has been impossible.

“There was no way I was going to be able to do it while working,” she said. “But, suddenly, we didn’t have to go in, and a way opened up. For a moment, I have been able to breathe easier.”

Although we are all haunted by the specter of death, we are also forging a new way to live. We are going back to planting gardens. Some are dispensing with the weaves, wigs and straighteners to get acquainted with their natural hair. (Maybe in addition to stocking up on toilet paper, we should be hoarding hair moisturizer!) Some are seeing this moment as a way to break from negative—even dangerous relationships. Some are becoming our own barbers. As the work stress goes down, blood pressures are, too. We are rediscovering the crock pot. Once, we were too busy to listen to that little voice that said, “Call your mother. Check on your friend.” Now, we hear that voice and obey.

We are seeing how toxic our pre-pandemic lives have been, how stress is killing us, how “important” pressures really don’t matter, and how, all this time, our priorities have been upside down.

Even as a society, our values have transformed overnight. Appreciation for what teachers endure day-in and day-out has skyrocketed. Some of our lowest-paid workers—fast food employees, grocery store cashiers, nurse aides, cleaning staff, garbage collectors, warehouse workers—are understood as the engines of our way of life. We now see the internet as a public utility that must be made available to all. We are recognizing the need for some version of socialized medicine.

I know I am writing this from a place of privilege. I am not homeless. I have no chronic medical conditions. I have access to food, water and electricity. And, although I’m sheltering in place with people who need caregiving, none of them are children who can make this ordeal particularly challenging. I am an introvert, so social distancing is not the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But the difference between my life now and the life I had prior to the pandemic is that I am more keenly aware of my privilege and infinitely more grateful. And, unlike before, I am aware that at any moment, that privilege can be erased. Those of us who have survived thus far have experienced a monumental reset. We are being called upon to reexamine our priorities, ambitions, sense of worth, and our responsibilities to others. No matter how this ends I know I can’t go back to the same way of living again.

I pray that we all will emerge on the other side of this pandemic. And, if God sees us through, I pray that we never go back to normal.

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