Several months past the one-year mark of our world upended by a global pandemic, most of us are physically and emotionally exhausted, longing for our old familiar lives. Now, here comes the sun, restrictions are being lifted, and a feeling of expansiveness is in the air. Our collective “whew” is scattering blossoms in the air.
Still, I feel somewhat unsettled by this excitement about getting back to normal. Do you remember that before it was taken away from us, we didn’t like much of what had become normal? So much was really messed up! Our lives were stressed, overscheduled, fragmented; we didn’t know many of our neighbors, let alone take time to engage with them. Regular upheaval and disease were at our door with pervasive racial and economic inequities, regular events of loss and displacement caused by global warming.
Perhaps our yearning for the familiar and a sense of security has gotten conflated with the idea of returning to normal. Before we do too much “going back,” can we take this opportunity to examine this stupor we’ve accepted as normal?
Seattle resident and healthcare consultant Diane Rawlins recently put it this way: “The COVID pandemic of this past year has given us living evidence of what interdependence looks like, breaking our trance of denial.”
Her words harken those often quoted from Chief Sealth: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
We’ve seen our interdependence with regard to how fast a deadly virus can spread, jumping the boundaries of species and countries. But the pandemic has also afforded us an experience of the upside of interdependence — neighbors checked with each other about possible needs; little free libraries were turned into food banks; time was put invested in planting new gardens and cleaning up neglected public spaces; signs in windows, songs and music on front porches expressed thanks for essential workers; an outpouring of support for small, independent businesses as they employed creativity with fast pivots to stay alive.
Before the pandemic and the reckoning with systemic racism of this past year, a little pod of Madison Park neighbors was steadily making progress with neighborhood organizing for emergency preparedness. We were impressed with how some of the basic tenets Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare program came to life, calling on neighbors to prepare to work together during a big disaster. Our hope is that this will continue, not only with preparation for some future event but in regular expressions of living well together as neighbors.
We know that climate change didn’t go into lockdown over the last year, and neither did white supremacy. But we can move forward with some courageous decisions in a continuing uncertain world. How could we squander what a life-changing year has taught us about interdependence, our kinship with the natural world, our innate desire to be generous, our ability to be resourceful and creative?
As you make time to replenish and recalibrate your life, begin to formulate some “what if” questions. Consider possibilities to resist any “returning” and lean into this idea of “the great turning” offered to us by Joanna Macy, David Korten and a host of other environmental activists.
What if we continued to strengthen our relationships with our neighbors and give neighborhood activities more of our time?
What if we found some ongoing collective will to prioritize the health of people and the planet over profits?
What if we are collectively better prepared when the next disaster arrives?
Be brave and talk about these things with your family, neighbors and friends. Maybe even take some action.
Take heart from the words of Courtney Martin in The Examined Family Newsletter from May 26: “I don’t want this to be the end of a story (George Floyd’s, COVID-19’s, cowered and painfully awake America’s), but the middle of something unpredictable. As hard as I’ve learned unpredictability is. I still crave a narrative epic, for myself, for my children, for yours, an America remade by its year — naw, its generation — of reckoning.”
If you’d like to join our Madison Park Emergency Preparation team or have ideas or resources to share, please contact either Sarah Armstrong, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Margie Carter, email@example.com.