“I began to talk. I talked about summer, and about time. The pleasures of eating, the terrors of the night. About this cup we call a life. About happiness. And how good it feels, the heat of the sun between the shoulder blades.” ~ Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems, Volume Two
“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that in the midst of winter,
I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
~ Albert Camus, The Stranger
I keep going back to Camus, perhaps because he grasped at a deep level our shared tenuous existential predicament of being human. As Alan de Bottom wrote this week an opinion piece in the New York Times about Albert Camus and his 1947 novel “The Plague” (Camus on the Coronavirus), De Bottom comments that Camus, “…was drawn to his theme because he believed that the actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that all human beings are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated at any time, by a virus, an accident or the actions of our fellow man.” And that, “Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.”
A few days ago, I wrote this during the first week of working from home:
I am wondering how others are doing at Swanson & Youngdale (the company I am now working at) with this new reality we find ourselves in? I spoke with my supervisor yesterday for some time and again this morning. I told him how I am finding it difficult to focus and establish a new productive routine at home. Not only for “work” but also for my graduate studies, exercise, family and life in general. I do not think I am alone in feeling some level of anxiety in not knowing how all this will play out. I appreciate the ability to work from home and have a job where I can still work – many others do not have this option now.
My partner is an RN and working on the front lines of this pandemic. She also has a cleaning company and had to lay off three of her four employees as customers no longer want people in their homes. We also run an AirBnB in our home and all the guests for April have canceled. This is just a small slice of how life is changing for now and undoubtedly will continue to change in the foreseeable future for many.
As I have reached out to classmates and professors at UMD, they are sharing the same uncertainty. And, I am sure many at S&Y are also feeling this way. Perhaps, not knowing how to express it or if they should express it. I was telling Mark how this feels different, worst, more serious than even 9/11 and the 2008 recession which both altered live dramatically. I remember working for Tamarack Materials during the 2008 recession and being laid off in 2009.
It is difficult to not let your mind wonder to that place and ask what is next?
Today was a better day of focusing and being in a new regular routine. I feel that I was more productive than the previous days. I think our individual and collective mental health may be a challenge to maintain. At least for me I know from suffering with depression and anxiety in the past certain triggers make life more challenging to navigate even with strategies, doctors and therapists to help.
One thought I have is to develop a means to share stories about working from home, the job site, the office so we can be in solidarity with one another. It could serve as a testimony to perseverance through these times.
Back to De Bottoms thoughts, “’The Plague’ isn’t trying to panic us, because panic suggests a response to a dangerous but short-term condition from which we can eventually find safety. But there can never be safety — and that is why, for Camus, we need to love our fellow damned humans and work without hope or despair for the amelioration of suffering. Life is a hospice, never a hospital.”
I really think that last sentence has real significance for all of us, “Life is a hospice, never a hospital.”
Camus writes in his novel, “However, there’s one thing I must tell you: there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is—common decency.”