Every week in the month of October, I will be sharing reflections on the Very Scary Things I’ve had to face in 2020 — emotionally, physically, spiritually. This is the third installment. For the previous one, read here.
My whole life, I’ve been fascinated with — and terrified of — death. I was the child of an older-than-usual parent (nearly two decades older than most of my peers’ parents), so I sought to understand the intricacies of death and the various ways it happens to people. I saw it as a way to help me eventually cope with that parent’s death, since it would inevitably come when I was young. (My father passed away a few months before my 25th birthday.)
Because I also live with anxiety, I go through life generally fearing the sudden death of myself or loved ones, arguably for the above described reasons. Be prepared for it, so it’ll hurt less when it comes. That is obviously not a productive way to live. My therapist insists upon this fact.
In the present moment, however, it could be argued that we’re all mourning the death of the lives we lived before COVID. We’re all walking through life with paranoia that our lives or those we love will be ripped away unexpectedly. We’ve seen and heard the stories too many times this year. Real life is contagion now. Death is all around us, within us. It is us now.
Every time my husband goes to work at his restaurant. Every time my mom goes to the store or into her job for the occasional shift. Every grocery trip. Death is floating in the air, everywhere.
Friends you used to see but don’t now. Friends who moved back to their childhood homes for fear of dying alone, or losing loved ones without saying goodbye. A job you hated but tolerated because of the people you worked with; people you went from seeing five days a week to never again. A sense of routine, fun without fear. We attended these funerals at home, via Zoom, with people who’ve lost the same.
I have COVID dreams regularly now. The other night, I dreamt once again that I’d left my house without a mask, going about the life of old, until I remembered that the pandemic was still happening. I tried desperately to cover my mouth with one hand, replaying every interaction, exhaling any contaminated air I might have breathed in. When I returned home, I coughed up blood and, I think, bits of my lungs. That was terrifying to wake up from.
Learning how to love life through the most inescapable threat to our health is a challenge. It takes real courage. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve shown courage just by being here today. You are brave for being alive in this critical moment. I suppose knowing that we are alive is all we must know right now. Whatever you learn about yourself or the world after that is supplementary to the gift of our existence in the present moment.