Covid-19 has been described by some as the Sacred Pause, but it is actually more of an emergency brake. Our lives were moving at an exponential pace on the highway of life. It’s as if we were on cruise control, not needing to pay attention to much of what was around us. The driving was being done for us, including the route we were on. And then an accident was sighted ahead of us. This sudden halt demanded our attention, as our tires screeched along the way. It was a shock to our system. The mindless driving ended, and now fear took control of the driver’s seat. What the heck just happened?
Pre-covid our lives were headed towards destinations that were pre-determined from societal norms. The speed at which we were going was set to 70 mph. You had to drive at that pace or be honked at and left behind. 70 mph was the norm, and so it became the value you inherited. Our lives were so full of busy-ness. When others asked you “how are you doing?”, the rote response became “busy.” This was generally greeted with a nod of comradery. Productivity became our human industry standard.
People were not getting enough sleep, but would seek assistance through the forms of Ambien, alcohol or numbing ourselves with the lullaby of Netflix that played quietly in the background. Many people were stuck in jobs to support lifestyles they couldn’t afford. They were commuting hours every week to a job that lacked satisfaction, but paid the bills. They were surviving but not thriving. We were living a muted existence, filled with stuff, chores, activities, and stress. Sometimes we were able to travel during our allotted two weeks per year. This is freedom. Although some of us may have questioned the type of existence we had stumbled into, we didn’t take actions to change the speed we were on.
As I described this article I am writing to my friend Isabella, I shared that it was as if our lives were as monotonous widgets on a conveyor belt. She responded that what I was describing were the beginning scenes of the Disney cartoon Wall-E. In the cartoon, humans became overweight, zombie like while staring at screens, indulging themselves with fast food, on these solo conveyor belt highways. Consumption without question. We were under a spell, because there was no reason to question our convenience. Life was easy because it didn’t have to be challenged.
All began to look the same. We wore the same clothes, strived for similar goals that were fed to us as the American dream. Get a college degree, a respectable job, get married, buy a home, luxury car, renovate that home, and spend the next thirty years paying off the debt you have accumulated. Buy, consume, work, sleep, repeat. Everyone complained about stress, dissatisfaction, and lack of sleep, but many of us assumed this was the all inclusive trip to adulthood we had pre-purchased. We accepted it and played our parts half-heartedly but without a fight. And then it came to a screeching halt.
Did we want to arrive at the predetermined destination that we were on autopilot towards? Were these the lives we once dreamed of? Did joy exist? What happened to the dreams we had set out for? Were we living the lives we wanted or those that were what our society told us we should have? We were filling our existence with stuff and couldn’t stop consuming. We stayed busy, and therefore there was no time to reflect. Productivity was the commodity we were selling, but we lacked the invaluable resource of time to appreciate the rewards.
Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for us to question our lives. After the emergency brakes were pushed for us, we had no choice but to sit with the looming dissatisfaction and question if we were exemplifying the lives that we once set for ourselves. How did we want to move forward? We are currently sitting in the traffic jam, looking at the accident ahead. Will we stay on the path we were headed or can we take an alternate route? There is still time.
The gift of Covid-19 is that it forced us to face our own mortality. Time is not abundant. As humans we are subject to financial instability, illness, and death. The spell that we were under can be lifted. We could have been the ones that were killed in the accident ahead, but we still have another chance.
Mary Oliver wondered in her poem The Summer Day:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
The emergency brakes forced upon us now can be a gift. Will you continue on the road paved ahead for you, or opt for a different route? What will you do now with your one wild and precious life now knowing there is more than one path and 70 mph is optional?