The question was innocent enough, a gentle attempt at escapism and spreading a little cheer around the internet.
But in this expat household, it instantly took on a very different meaning. Asked about what places we were planning to visit once all this was over, we could only come up with our respective homelands. To visit and hug our loved ones again is our only wish, and there’s no guarantee we’ll get it. My stepmom is gravely ill, brain radiotherapy seems to have eradicated immediate danger for now but COVID-19 is a death threat.
This isn’t drama but facts: While humans aren’t facing mass extinction, we don’t all have the same survival chances, alas.
Being a vector for disquiet and fear would be easy under such circumstances but it wouldn’t help anyone, least of all my parents. Even when you’re miles away, anxiety travels at internet speed so we’re all taking care not to spread it in our conversations or in our messages. Keeping our spirits up and making everyone feel supported is our only focus otherwise we would all collapse like dominoes.
And then what?
What goes for my household and our families goes for ours, too, the human family. People gloating on social media about hoarding is a trend that hasn’t abated yet, causing untold anxiety to those who can’t afford to stock up or are already going hungry. People going on about self-indulgence aren’t helping either. “You’re allowed to” and “You deserve to” only reinforces the individualistic mindset that we can no longer afford to entertain.
Understand you’re not special and neither am I. There isn’t a single human in the world right now who isn’t concerned about COVID-19.
But freaking people out with predictions and prophecies that have no basis in reality isn’t helping. Sharing content without checking sources is doing more harm than good so please do your due diligence before. And if it’s hazardous garbage, you can flag it and help platforms and media practitioners combat misinformation and fake news.
Or just scroll on, folks! Not everything you see on the internet deserves attention and much less validation or support.
Perceived helplessness shouldn’t draw our attention away from what matters most: We can all do something.
Every single one of us can, even when our life is falling apart and we have our back against the wall, which many freelancers like me do. Then again, I’m not sure writing about the extent of the mess I’m in is going to achieve anything beside stoking schadenfreude. At a time when we need to stick together, I don’t want to encourage it because it is partly how the internet turned into the cesspool it is.
Also, many of us are experiencing all kinds of adversity, from food insecurity to having no clue where next month’s rent is going to come from. Rocking myself into the corner wailing is unlikely to conjure up either but maintaining my sanity might so that’s what I’m doing.
While trying to figure out ways to weather this pandemic, everyone in my household arrived at the same conclusion: Now’s not the time to mope. We air out our concerns periodically but we don’t let them take over. Sure, the struggle is realer than ever and it has just intensified to unprecedented levels. But the economic impacts of the pandemic are out of our hands so we started focusing on what we can do instead.
Take it from a chronic depressive: When your sanity is only hanging by a thread, you need to get out of your head and fast otherwise you’ll end up trapped in there. This is a risk none of us can take; stress, fear, and despair are all highly communicative and a recipe for cabin fever.
And as a humorous side note to anyone who thinks we have it easy in the Netherlands because of our relaxed cannabis laws, it depends on whether one has one’s finger on the pulse. Along with schools, cafés, restaurants, bars, and gyms, the government closed all coffee shops aka pot shops from the evening of March 15 until April 6. And promptly reopened them so street crime wouldn’t take over.
True to the clueless stoner cliché, many folks who don’t speak Dutch and have no TV didn’t find out until well after the fact, twice.
“This aggression will not stand, man,” all the dudes who could no longer abide said with a shrug. Now that real life is stranger than The Big Lebowski, it can turn into an endless source of amusement if you let it. Who would have thought toilet paper would ever be the new celebrity status or that the Dutch sometimes behaved like hamsters?
These are the small victories we’ve come to celebrate with good humor and grace in those uncertain times.
Scoring disposable paper products. Realizing you can turn cat-spotting into a daily task and then stretch the fun by adding up the number of ears, the number of paws, and the number of tails at the end of the day. And even whiskers if you and the feline got up close and personal for any length of time.
“Cat!” is a battlecry around here. We systematically drop whatever we’re doing to go observe the creature before it vanishes from view. For extra fun, we shout silently with pointed fingers and silly faces if one of us is on the phone. Even my father and my stepmom in Paris are in on it now, and our nightly conversations all start with “Miaou, miaou !” instead of “Bonsoir !”
You may not be able to control the number of cats (or dogs, or birds) you get to spot on any given day but you can turn every sighting into a joyful occasion.
How else are we going to get through this?
Steady yourself with whatever engages you fully, whether it’s cats or work if you’re still lucky to have it and even if you don’t. Whatever it is that you do, you can always turn your skills into something useful to others, in whatever capacity.
Focus on putting out some vibes that don’t bum people out. Please have enough compassion not to remind them of what they can’t have, don’t have, or just lost because this is catnip to depressed brains. If you have the good fortune on being able to rejig your budget to accommodate new parameters, maybe keep that knowledge to yourself?
To some of us, having a budget is as much of a luxury as disposable income. We have the same requirements as everyone else but we never quite know how we’ll meet them from one week or one month to the next. Or rather, we haven’t yet decided what essentials will fall to the wayside because something always does. And we’re very aware of how much mental bandwidth this uses up, too, and this is the very reason we’re choosing to pay attention to what is right in front of our noses.
Like our loved ones, especially when we don’t live in the same country as they do but the internet is magic. Like random cats, especially when we live in a place that has them. Like sunrises, sunsets, rain drops on the window, the sound of the garbage truck that reminds us some people are keeping life ticking over.
So the rest of us can remain safely cooped up indoors and flatten that curve because even a difficult life is better than no life at all.
This isn’t a drill, it’s a pandemic so why not make the most of the life we have and share what joy we find with those still looking for theirs?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.