Breathe in.

Hold for ten seconds.

Breathe out.

Feel your heartbeat.

I mean really listen to it.

When was the last time you took the time to just sit and be completely in the moment with nothing but your heartbeat?

When the pandemic first hit in Wuhan in late 2019, my husband and I went from our life of studies and bustle as students at Northeastern University in Shenyang, China to complete isolation in our apartments almost overnight. The shock of what was happening in not just our world, but all over the globe, caused effects similar to those of the steps of grieving to process how the world was changing so fast, and, by proxy, how our lives in the world were changing at such a rapid pace. As we watched our lives unravel and our focus suddenly shift from writing our academic work to how to stock up on masks and hand sanitizer, we were hit with the first stage of denial. Even though we were taking precautions and listening to our university’s advice of not leaving our home, getting necessities delivered, and reporting our temperature and health status to an academic supervisor, it was hard to believe this dystopian reality was really our existence, and it was much easier to quiet the mind with thoughts that these were living conditions that were put in place by people who were overreacting to the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Denial really can only last for so long as a survival switch and started to melt as a paradigm when our apartment development announced that there would be extra security at our entrances and that only residents would be allowed in with no exceptions. This meant meeting all delivery people at the gate for mail and necessities such as food, and not even my physical therapist was allowed in to assist in healing a broken patella I managed to acquire the previous September. Denial was fading fast and gave way to anger. Anger at the situation of being stuck in one’s home and then guilt over the anger because you are one of the lucky, healthy ones. Anger that there isn’t more that you can do to help those who need it. Anger over the fact that there are so many miles between what was once your home and some of your loved ones and knowing that they won’t get the care they need in those countries, and all you can do is watch. This anger wasn’t aimed at anyone, but it also gave us time to think about other issues that fueled this familiar feeling of anger. COVID-19 was an easy instigator that brought many issues of disparity between classes and issues of race to light that weren’t as easy to ignore as they had been. On a global level, African Americans were more likely to be affected by this pandemic both health-wise and economically. People were losing their jobs and scared for their health, with fewer resources remaining once their income diminished in countries that weren’t supportive of all communities.

These issues of race were exasperated in particular in the United States with the murder of George Floyd by a policeman. With the backdrop of COVID-19, protests emerged worldwide and don’t seem to have any intention of slowing down. It’s overwhelming and hard to know where to start to process living in the most wide spread civil rights movement in history during the time of COVID-19. George Floyd was a catalyst that pushed our anger over the edge, and with life’s model for normal already disrupted, there was no quieting our anger any longer. Coming from the United States, I feel so far away from what is happening at some moments and at other times it feels like a part of me is there experiencing it. If I could be there to peacefully protest, I would. But I’m not. Like others, I am only able to find power in my words that I share. With so much of life stripped down, it is a chance to change our own personal paradigms and work together in union to create a more equitable, and eventually equal, future for our younger generations. I think with all of this time for reflection, it is clear now that anger can be a useful tool that keeps us in check about what is fair and what isn’t. It isn’t just a blind emotion that controls us – it can be used to make us all better depending on how we use it.

Bargaining. Who had thought that Purell and face masks would have been considered a good investment a year ago? We can honestly say we know now globally, no one thought that. While there are plenty of jokes about what people are willing to barter for toilet paper, meat, hand sanitizer, and masks, the more serious side of bargaining is what are we all willing to give up to stay safe and virus free without risking compromising our health and others in order to lead a “normal” life, or what had been considered normal before COVID-19? Many of us have given up the majority of 2020 to stay indoors in order to guarantee our safety and the safety of our loved ones and society, some under strictly enforced lockdown and others as a precaution, depending on where you live. For many of us on this planet, the bargaining wasn’t up to us, but really up to the governments that are ultimately in charge of our safety and access to health care during a pandemic. The Chinese government shut down almost everything in order to ensure the safety of the public and gain control over this virus, and the bargaining chip meant that months were spent indoors with no contact with the human race other than those we were living with in order to remain healthy. While my husband and I gave up a lot during those months, we forever remain grateful for living in a country that took the effects of this virus in terms of health and public safety as well as the economy seriously, and are still scared for our loved ones and families in the United States and Egypt where the virus continues to rage havoc. It seems compared to a lot of people in the world, we got the better part of the bargain than most.

Most existences before COVID-19 were bustling with interaction, whether welcomed or otherwise, and as with most major disruptions that rattle our reality as we have known it, with isolation in the face of rapid personal and global change, depression is usually a wavelength most of us have lived with along this ride of life in coexistence with the coronavirus. Many have paid the ultimate price of succumbing to the virus with their lives and others have lost their livelihood. Loved ones are no longer with us and families and community members around the world are in fear for their health and are facing the stress of losing their homes or worried about how to get food on the table. This virus hasn’t just overturned our world in terms of how we live our daily lives, but it also makes us all more aware of our vulnerability during our existence on this earth. Many people have gone their whole lives without worrying about whether they were going to catch a virus that could kill themselves or their family. Our perspectives and paradigms have shifted toward health in a way that makes us more aware of how we spend our most precious gift – our time and energy. As terrifying as this revelation may be to some, especially the young, it is also another gift to realize we have a choice as to how we put forward our thoughts and breaths while we are a part of this world. These paradigm shifts are often accompanied with depression as we say goodbye to our loved ones that have died and the lives we had that will forever be a part of the past. Depression is often an overwhelming blanket that takes over as our lives feel like they are crumbling. This is also a chance for us to take that rubble and rebuild it into something stronger once we are ready. We must be kind to ourselves as we feel the weight of this blanket and know that this winter of our lives will give way to spring in time when the blanket will be no longer need as the heat of life starts to blossom again.

As that heat starts to warm us to the point when we feel like shedding the blanket that had once felt unbearably heavy, acceptance is there as a peace offering to lighten the load as we face what is now our new existence. Letting go of what has been and accepting that our ways of life have to change on personal and global levels of the spectrum is how we not only survive this world post pandemic, but how we rebuild to thrive. The chance to start again is a gift and we can learn from the mistakes we made before to become more prepared to make this world stronger and more equitable. When something as strong as the coronavirus affects every single living entity in this existence, including our planet, we must force ourselves to be more aware of each other collectively and the greater good that each of us can be for ourselves and each other during this lifetime to leave this world more protected than before so that we will not be as rattled the next time a virus threatens to sweep the globe. In order to defeat COVID-19 and whatever pandemics could come next, we must humble ourselves and be aware of how fragile each one of our lives is. Eradicating this virus can only be done by forgoing arrogance and combining resources to protect each other while realizing that each life is worth saving, and so is our planet that we have so carelessly taken for granted.

This virus makes it important to realize how each life is so precious because it only takes one person to spread this virus to perpetuate its existence at such a rapid pace, which means the virus is also aware of the importance of each individual. The difference between us as a species on this planet and the virus is that the virus doesn’t see race or class when it finds a host, the virus doesn’t understand how much an individual is worth in monetary value, it just sees the one life as a gift to perpetuate its own existence. If we treat each individual life on this plane the same way COVID-19 sees humans, then we stand a chance of not only beating this virus, but creating an existence that benefits us all no matter where we come from, the color of our skin, or how much money we make. We have much to learn from this virus and this is our chance to humble ourselves and take into account how precious each living thing on this earth is. It is now up to us to accept that change is necessary to evolve as a species and how unity can only be created by starting with ourselves.

My husband and I often reminisce of how different our lives were just half a year ago compared to now and I am constantly in awe of how adaptable we are as a species if we make the choice to change. A typical day for me to live my new normal existence starts with me waking up and reporting my temperature to a supervisor at Northeastern University and stating my health status as well at a national data base. This is so I can be monitored in case I am in need of health assistance and need to go to the hospital, both for my own personal safety and the safety of others in the community. If I was in need of medical assistance, my university would provide a staff member to help me go to the hospital, where my insurance would cover any medical costs I would need, including testing and if I needed to undergo admittance or any procedures. Masks and thermometers have been provided by my university to us free of charge and any supplies or groceries that we need will be delivered to us personally by someone from the university in case we don’t feel safe leaving our apartment. Those living on campus must stay on campus unless they get permission from their supervisor to leave. Life will stay like this for quite some time as there is no foreseeable end to the virus in sight.

As for China in general, no foreigners are allowed in at this time without a certain status permitted by the government, and if our alert levels for certain cities are raised because of case numbers rising, the city will be put into lockdown, just as Beijing recently was, to prevent a second wave of the virus taking over. This seems to be the way of life for possibly the next year or so because even cities that haven’t seen cases in months can be hit with a rapid spread of the virus even with proper PPE (personal protective equipment). My city in Shenyang is currently operating almost as normal, but no one is seen travelling without masks, and once you enter most prominent buildings, you must present a health QR code that must be scanned upon entering, as well as getting your temperature taken, to ensure contact tracing in the case someone may have been around you with the virus. Many places often require facial recognition as well as having your temperature taken. China has also used mobile signals to contact trace to alert citizens to self-isolate if they have been within a certain distance of an individual who has tested positive for the virus.

This happened recently to my physical therapist. It turns out that someone near his apartment complex recently tested positive and he had to self-quarantine for two weeks until our next session. I am forever grateful for this technology being used because had it not been in placed and alerted him by using his mobile signal, he would have come into our home and put us at risk for the virus. Some people feel that it is a violation of privacy, but this technology is actually being used to help keep people safe from the virus. As long as it is used properly, it is keeping us healthy and preventing another wave of COVID-19 from taking our new fragile freedom away again. While some see these methods as taking away our freedom, it is actually what is giving us the ability to live normal existences because these preventative strategies are in place to keep us safe as we go back to our daily lives.

As our new normal is starting to begin again, I also don’t want to forget my awareness surrounding my existence that I realized was so vulnerable. As life as we knew it was completely wiped away and we were processing the depth of what was happening around us, the only way to deal with this overwhelming wave we were riding was by concentrating on the moment and being fully aware of each breath and heartbeat while watching life unfold. Really realizing how little control I have of so much of life helped me accept what little I could control and it all starts with our intention in each beat and breath.

Breath in.

Hold for ten seconds.

Breath out.

Where will your next beat be directed?


Submitted: June 20, 2020

© Copyright 2023 Kate Meyer. All rights reserved.

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