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By Michelle Fish

It’s been five weeks since I wrote my last blog post.  Five weeks used to pass in the blink of an eye. This particular five weeks, though, has taken what feels like a lifetime to get behind me.

With the Spartan Development Students in Guatemala
Landing in Guatemala City with the Spartan Development Fund contingent from Michigan State University on February 29 of 2020.

My last post was written in a world where I knew a lot of things. I knew what my purpose was. I knew what our income was. I knew what the emotional geography for the people that I love looked like. I knew the list of countries I would visit in the next six months in search of coffee farmers doing great things.

I don’t know any of that now.

Ménières disease should have prepared me for this moment. (Read Me & Huey Lewis) In case you haven’t read that post, it describes the condition with which I was diagnosed about two years ago: intermittent bouts of vertigo that make me lose the horizon and send me, physically, ass over elbows.

Five weeks ago, I thought I was speaking to a very small subset of humanity that also had this weird inner ear condition. Thanks to Covid-19, we all have vertigo. This is an ass over elbows moment.

Meet Stan

I’ve wanted to write, but I haven’t been able to. And not because I’ve been too busy. Anxiety has scrambled my ability to communicate (or, frankly do much of anything else). I have been wearing it like a physical thing… like someone is sitting on my chest. Let’s call him Stan. Stan is the guy who won’t leave the party, and you can’t even remember inviting him. Stan is a jerk. He double dips on the salsa and talks to you with ranch dressing in his beard. And he won’t leave. He backs off a bit during Yoga and long walks, or when I’m facetiming with our son in Seattle, but he’s always looking for his chance to sprawl out and make his ugly self at home atop my lungs.

One thing I know now that I didn’t know then… I’ve never understood what it means to be an anxious person. I thought I did. Certainly, I have had stressful moments in my life. Many of them. But I always took for granted that anxiety was transitory, and mitigatable. I mean, you just need an action plan.

Gardening

Of course I thought that way. I’m a gardener. I believe that even if you have a bad harvest the year before, you can amend the soil and do a better job weeding… so plant more seeds, because they will germinate, grow and yield crops.

Man, that is so five weeks ago.

This is a different moment. Anxiety is more like the weather now… it’s a thing we have all been tasked to accept, regardless of our native optimism. Kind of like having Ménières.

We have an action plan. It just doesn’t make me feel any better.

Bob and Michelle Fish in Quarantine

Shelter in Place

Like most of America, Bob and I are locked down… our great gift is that we get to do this together. I am a hugger. Anybody that knows me probably knew that FIRST about me. I feel so lucky to be locked up and locked down with the man I love (and am allowed) to hug.  AND, bonus, we have three dogs. When I find myself in desperate need of a cuddle, I have so many living beings willing to oblige.

I am specifically worried about our Mothers who are not in a similarly blessed situation. We are doing our utmost to mitigate their loneliness, but you can’t really replace in person contact, no matter how hard you try. Please pray for them… and we will pray for yours.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? We’re all in this together. What a weird virus this is to remind us how much we rely on each other while surviving it means we have to distance.

It’s up to Us

But the fundamental truth of this moment is also that we are sharing this One Big Island in Space, and how this plays out is entirely up to us. It’s just us.

I’ve seen some remarkably generous acts over the last five weeks. Really inspiring moments of kindness and compassion, and I hope to tell some of those stories in future posts.

I’ve also seen some people acting out of fear in a way that I don’t think would have occurred to their pre-Covid-19 selves. I mean, hoarding toilet paper? But that’s not the worst of it. We’ve likely all read the news reports of Asian Americans being attacked (verbally and otherwise). Even in our own quiet, usually kind little corner of the world, a few neighbors have taken to shaming and blaming each other on social media for perceived infractions. Usually, the loudest voice has the least knowledge. As if that helps anybody. It’s sad and it’s ugly. Dealing with fear is a beast.

Let’s figure out a way to do it that is less cacophonous, less mean. Maybe what it means to be generous and compassionate is defined right now by how we are socially (and physically) distant from one another. But this too, in time, will pass.

What comes next?

We are all afraid, but maybe the most powerful thing we can do is based on very old truths… love thy neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be kind. Don’t judge. Love people. Just make sure you remember to wear your face mask.

And remember the enemy is not each other, it’s a virus. We’re going to want to rebuild the world we’ll inherit when this is over. It’s going to take all of us, and all of our best selves. Gosh, I’m looking forward to it… it’ll be like gardening.

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