One foot in front of the other

One day last week – I think it was Tuesday, but it’s all blurring together somewhat – I spent most of the day fighting back tears. The only times I wasn’t fighting back tears I was actually crying.

And you know what? That’s ok.

These are tough times.

We don’t know what’s coming. This feels like the calm before the storm – except it’s not very calm, and we have no idea how bad the storm is going to be. In Australia we’ve weathered bushfires, drought, and locusts, and we were just beginning to breathe again when toilet paper and pasta shortages began to hit. Before we knew it we were all (well, most? maybe? I hope?) isolating to keep each other alive. To protect the vulnerable, and also ourselves.

I have to admit that in late January I told a friend who was reconsidering her travel plans that I thought it was just a bad flu, and that we really didn’t need to be reconfiguring our whole lives to handle it. I could not have been more wrong.

When I started making videos about the data science of the virus (like this one on exponential growth, this one on why we need to flatten the curve, and this one on how to actually calculate the death rate during a pandemic) I started to crunch the numbers for myself and it scared me so badly that I have barely left the house for two weeks. And I am the extreme end of the extrovert spectrum. The lack of physical contact is really tough for me. The loved ones I am separated from are going to be hugged to within an inch of their lives when all of this is over.

So we are taking this incredibly seriously. But my husband is still going to work, because he can’t really work from home and until the government shuts down non-essential businesses, his work is unlikely to close down. My kids still don’t know whether they are going back to school at the start of term 2, though the smart money is on remote learning. But we have no idea how long that will last.

Our orthodontist said shut downs would likely be brief, or cyclical, with closures, re-openings, closures, and so on, for the foreseeable future. She was very confident. Scotty from Marketing, meanwhile, is saying that hair cuts and jigsaws are essential, but we should all stay home unless we are essential – ie if we have a job. And he’s saying that lockdowns would have to last at least 6 months once they start.

We have no certainty. Those of us who are taking this seriously are isolating ourselves and worried about how long that will last. The homeless are in serious strife. The jobless might be protected but funding won’t kick in immediately. Renters are worried about finding the money for next month’s rent. Everyone is worried about getting sick. About the potential for losing loved ones. About what there will be to come back to when all of this is over. What does this all mean for our future? No-one can say for sure, but everyone is speculating.

And some of us are expected to keep working throughout the drama. We’re all trying to maintain some sense of normalcy among a frenzied onslaught of things that are way beyond anything we’d ever have considered normal.

We’re zoomed out but desperate for contact. We’re dying to be touched but touch might kill us.

And meanwhile the smaller things of households suddenly thrown into close contact without relief and rubbing against each others’ raw nerves… well, they’re first world problems, right? We’re not dead. We’re not starving. But that doesn’t make this unrecognisable life easy or manageable.

So how do we keep going? When one foot in front of the other suddenly involves a completely unknown path with all kinds of potential pitfalls. When we can’t just go to a friend’s place and vent when things get tough. When there’s no such thing as a private conversation anymore.

There are no easy answers. And we have to stay home, isolate, and take this seriously, if we’re going to get through this. But there’s one thing I learned when my Dad was dying. He was facing a long, brutal decline from cancer. He refused treatment, and would not even acknowledge that he was ill, and his future terrified me beyond words. And that future did not eventuate. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack, and was spared the worst. And that’s when I realised that all of that time and energy spent fearing the unknown but terrifying future was not only wasted, it was destructive.

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” is an easy motto to say, but not so easy to live by. But actually, I think it’s essential. At all times, really, but now more than ever. To immerse yourself in the moment, and focus on getting through to the next moment, and the one after that, is all we can usefully do right now. Do what you can. Reach out to those you can help. Take whatever steps you can to make the people around you smile – whether it’s making pancakes, co-constructing a playlist to make you feel connected, or having virtual drinks with friends – and take each day as it comes.

And, at the same time, remember that some days you won’t be able to do any of that. Some days it will all be overwhelming, and you will need someone else to pull you back from the brink. And that’s ok.

One foot in front of the other still works. And when it doesn’t, it’s ok to admit it. Because every time you admit things are hard, it gives someone else permission to not be ok.

Even in these times when we have to be separate, we still have each other, and we still have love. And that’s what will take us through to the other side.