By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
If anything, 2020 is a test case for how we, all of us almost everywhere around the world at essentially the same time deal with change.
It has been said that we are in the same storm, but in different boats.
We have seen that different people deal with challenges, difficulties and the pace of change in widely different ways.
Some of us retreated into Netflix, others into crafts, gardening or cooking and many, at least in my neighborhood, got to work on those long neglected home projects.
Most, if not all of these, it turns out, are essentially middle-class coping mechanisms. Those of us in the middle-class “boat” (relatively) easily made the transition. In other words, we had the luxury of doing what we would do anyway, but in bigger chunks of time.
I have an old house with lots of foliage around it. I could easily spend 8-10 hours a day, semi-indefinitely, repairing, cleaning, pruning, painting, trimming, repairing again, cleaning again, well, you get the picture.
An old house, surrounded by trees and bushes will keep you busier than you would imagine possible.
I mention that because for me, long neglected chores kept me busy and focused when many people I knew were paralyzed in boredom and endless videos.
Our national state was one that closely tracked Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief.
These “stages” were never meant to be firm, or even sequential. There is nothing inevitable about them.
But consider them as reference points – markers that might look more and more familiar the closer we look at them.
And not only are they familiar, they are true, relevant and important.
First, there’s denial, which we saw everywhere, from conversations to talk shows, early on: This won’t happen to us. It won’t come here. It’s a hoax.
Then there was anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities! I need a haircut! This is ruining my business! I have my rights!
There’s bargaining: If I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? If I wear this mask, I’ll be OK. If we close our business for a while and open at half-capacity, we’ll be all right, won’t we?
There’s sadness – usually attached to anxiety: When will this end? What about my family? What about my career? Income? Bills?
And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. We will do what we have to do. We might not like it, but we will get through it.
Acceptance, perhaps the toughest territory of all, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually, shop online, use or even make a face mask. I can get on with my life. I may not like this situation, but it won’t last forever.
Grief, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross insisted, is never easy and is different for everyone, even if there are occasionally some similarities or overlaps. Everyone has to make their own way through.
We are, in more ways than one, in the same storm, but in different boats, with different skill levels, different tolerance for pain and change and different attachments to what is being left behind.
If you’ve ever experienced real grief, you know that, at some levels, we never get over some losses – and some losses become embedded in our attitudes and values for years to come.
My parents, for example, lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They knew at a gut level, poverty, hunger and long-term deprivation. They did not waste money or food. They saved and made things last. Each month they set aside a small amount of money toward a car. After a few years they had enough to buy a new car. They didn’t use credit cards. And they never had house payments. They built their house, paycheck by paycheck, month by month. They had no debt.
They knew too many people who had lost their homes, farms and businesses by being in debt.
In the 1980s and 1990s those attitudes seemed restrictive if not crazy. In 2020 they make sense again.
Who among us would be thrilled to have no debt – no home loan, no car loan, no student debt, no credit card debt.
Being in debt is to live in a state of perpetual vulnerability. The slightest glitch, in income, relationship, interest rates, or the health of the 401(k) has a huge ripple effect through one’s personal life – even our physical health.
We are all in this together, but our capacity for, and ability to withstand change, and our commitment to what came before and what comes next will pull on us like gravitational forces we barely recognize, but the more we understand those forces or transitional phases, the more prepared we will be for the next ones.
As with medical conditions, we might have pre-existing conditions that make us more susceptible to stress or difficulty- but at the same time, some of us have been ready, or even more than ready for some deep-seated, long-standing changes.
The biggest difference in our current situation is that, again, we are in this situation together.
Personal grief, like the loss of a loved one, pulls us into isolation. COVID-19, and its impacts, hits us all.
In different ways, but oddly enough, we are all in this together. We are not through this until we are all through it.
Every city, every school, every family, even every individual that holds – or spreads – the virus is a threat to us all.
Every one who refuses to wear a mask or take other precautions endangers not only themselves, but every one of us.
As I mentioned at the beginning, 2020 is a test case for how we deal with change.
Parts of our county traditionally on the edge of change – New York City and most of the West Coast, for example, dealt aggressively, and for the most part, effectively, to the pandemic.
Those parts of our country with a strong allegiance to the past struggle, as they have for more than a century, with changes and challenges that threaten identity and livelihood.
Denial, as Kübler-Ross pointed out, is the first defense. But it is only a defense. No victory, no progress is made without the long difficult trudge toward acceptance.
Some of us, regions, cultures, businesses, families or individuals, get stuck at certain stages, or find ourselves unable to act or even make sense of where we are.
But opportunity is always latent – especially in times of crisis or apparent threat.
Threats, viral, political, financial or military will always exist. Whether we want to or not, we need to learn to deal with them.
We will get through this, and many other struggles and challenges.
Distractions and denials take us nowhere. The real work is always ahead of us.