Presence In Place of Fear

by Kenneth Rayman on March 23, 2020
Globe, Schipol International Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands

When the world was asked to go isolate, I had a breakdown. I’d been feeding subconsciously, as an empath, off my social media feed for the last few weeks, peaking when the announcement came. I also had my computer break after 9 years (it had a good life but the timing was not so perfect). Wanting to regroup and not be so affected by the world around me, I deleted Facebook from my phone and spent two straight days watching movies which ended up giving me this idea and another I’m working on as well as immense clarity on the situation we now face.

I first approached this situation by stating cultural observations I had in Europe of Chinese tour groups in hotels. I talked of the fast spread in China through observations, on more than one occasion, of Chinese tourists’ habits of personal hygiene and concept of space. While in a St. Petersburg, Russia hotel eating breakfast at the buffet, a gentleman had cleared his throat by coughing as he looked down at the pan of eggs he was filling his plate from, while another coughed unprotected standing at the coffee bar and their children ran around the restaurant doing the same. I realized then that it was cultural, for some reason, not to cover their mouths. I “knew” the reason for the initial spread, but as the prevalence of the condition in places like Italy grew, I began to tell people that this is not just a cultural matter, yet still felt safe knowing that I knew infection control and prevention from 5 years in healthcare.

I “knew” what the staff and residents were going through in the senior care community that became the Seattle area epicenter. I empathized with them and hurt for them as the deaths began here. I saw the ignorance begin to rise online with social media memes making light of the seriousness of the matter. Then engaging, myself, and telling people they needed to be more cognizant of the reality we were in, now that it was not just a localized problem like the most recent experiences, with the SARS outbreak of 2002 and the Swine Flu of 2009. I still felt “safe” knowing I knew infection control though. Then deaths started to mount here in the US, and the arguments got more intense between “science” and “just the media.” I found myself completely unprepared for the next thing which was the conversation turning “political” with people trying to score cheap meaningless points. I also started to fear the fact that I live alone, in terms of preparation and the impending social isolation. I COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

I spent those next two days, after deleting the app, going for the enjoyment of life rather than reacting to something I couldn’t control or someone begging to be looked at. I watched a movie I’d always seen as an exploration of the question, “what would we do if we were eternally alone?” in the movie “Passengers” with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, and “12” which is the Russian adaptation of the American classic “12 Angry Men.” Watching those movies helped ground me in the here and now while also sparking creativity. The absence of social media allowed for perspective to grow in my little space about the nature of how the next few weeks or months would unfold and what I could do during and after to grow myself and humanity along with it.

I had a long standing get together after those initial days and, while only on isolation orders (not lockdown), we both decided to follow through but with obvious precautions. When I arrived, at least in this one park, people were cautiously maintaining some semblance of normalcy. I had walked in by the playground area and the few people there with children were well spaced apart. The parents seemed to want to help ease the children into the routine of the coming days but not immediately lock themselves down. When nearing people on the sidewalk or trail, either consciously or subconsciously, we both seemed to take a wide arc around each other unless the trail was too narrow. When my friends and I met, we waved elbows and walked together with distance between and agreed that we just needed this “one time,” but hoped to do it again when it was better in the world. (This one observation has proven to be the exception since, with mountain hiking trails and parks dangerously filling up).

On the way home, I thought, “it’d been a few days for stores to restock, why don’t I stop and see what I could find for the next few days.” Allaying my preparedness fear, I found myself able to find what, for me, could do for the meantime and as I walked the aisles I felt more and more at ease for myself while aware that this could, itself, change and mindful that, for someone else with a family, an essential could be missing. I felt the gratitude enter that the previous two days had primed. I grabbed what I needed for the evening and went home.

An hour or so later, I received an email from my main travel community online saying they wanted to form a community weekly video conference the next morning to give us a reliable place to be with people during this unprecedented experience. I felt gratitude again as my other communities within travel or personal growth all did the same almost simultaneously. With these two moments of happenstance, my two main fears for this time in the collective world’s experience were laid to rest and I “knew” that I will make it through this as will many others.

What followed was more insights into coping around the world and the also viral nature of the human spirit, as videos of neighborhood balcony block parties and balcony opera performances in Italy, rooftop led neighborhood workouts in Spain, and neighborhood balcony standing ovations in Norway for front line medical workers replaced the negativity in my social feeds. My fear, though early in its process, has become hope for the future, personally, and brought forth ideas, professionally, that I can build upon when the world at home eventually needs to be reminded of the world abroad’s beauty instead of this moment’s fear. I, no, WE, will make it through this!