I’m lucky. Blessed, even. Grateful. I am surviving a global pandemic (knock on wood). So is Ben. We are surviving. We are grateful. The pandemic has only a small impact on my income. I know just a handful of souls that have contracted COVID-19. They’ve all emerged on the other side. No one I know has contracted the virus and lost their life.
There is no doubt I’m fortunate. But this collective global experience is not easy, is it? We’ve been angry, sad and exhausted. We’ve been giddy with good news until hope crumbles. During these times I fall into what I’ve begun to call ‘pandemic malaise’.
The word ‘malaise’ may be too tender a descriptor. Pandemic Malaise is much more than general unease.
As a child I was dumped at my grandparent’s little row home most weekends because my mother was the lead singer in my step-father’s country and western band. They had gigs most weekends and when they did I spent Fridays and Saturdays at grandma and grandpas. I didn’t mind too much. There was a playground with swings just across the street and my grandmother made my favorite foods – BLTs or Minute Steak sandwiches with horseradish and catsup sauce. At night we’d play gin rummy sipping 7-Up and eating pretzel sticks.
But at least once every weekend I was asked to fetch something from the basement. Pandemic Malaise is like my grandparent’s basement in Allentown, Pennsylvania because my grandparent’s basement was this young child’s worst nightmare.
I hated being sent ‘down the basement’. The stairs, simple unfinished planks of wood, creaked and threatened to send me plummeting to the hard cement floor with every step. The single lightbulb dangling from the dark beams above me cast deep and endless shadows filled with ghosts, spiders and bogeymen across the detritus of my grandparent’s long lives. The dank, sulfurous air chilled my bones. Even in summer. Sometimes a breeze from the kitchen’s open window would cause the hinges of the door to moan. The door would close. The warm light from upstairs would disappear and I knew I’d be trapped forever.
When I fall into Pandemic Malaise it feels as though I’m a ten-year-old trapped in my grandparent’s dark basement uncertain as to when I’ll be able to see light again.
As the light at the end of this long tunnel begins to grow a little brighter, we may be tempted to compare our experience of the pandemic with someone else’s. We might even determine that a friend’s experience doesn’t begin to compare with the horror of our own.
We cannot do that because we cannot begin to understand someone else’s journey these past thirteen months. All we can do is offer the compassion and empathy that comes with knowing that we’ve all been through, and are still working our way through this huge, calamitous, extraordinary event.