Nothing like the threat of World War III, and a red-hot nuclear reactor, to focus one’s attention. After more than two years of obsessively parsing the news about the global pandemic ravaging the world, we now have an escalating war in Eastern Europe to distract us. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has eclipsed the grim coverage of people sick and dying of a runaway virus. Now we have 24/7 coverage of people fleeing and dying in a firestorm let loose by a runaway Vladimir Putin.
Irony abounds. We were blindsided by Covid and blindsided by Russia, although there was plenty of evidence in both cases that something bad was coming down. In this moment, the two global events are creating a kind of whipsaw effect, with our battered psyches in the middle.
In the past few weeks, as Covid restrictions loosened, I wasn’t ready to join the party. It seems that very young children and older people are still vulnerable to getting sick, possibly very sick. The difficult piece of this is that the protocol for any one individual is, well, individual. Americans aren’t good at nuance, but that’s what we need for now. How much risk do I take, and when and why? When will it be safe to go to a wedding or a funeral?
Many of us have stopped thinking at all about the coronavirus, because we’re creatures of the news cycle, and the news has moved on to Ukraine. It creates our reality: what we think about, what we talk about and what we worry about.
For many of us, the constant stream of “breaking news,” whether it was about the pandemic for the past two years, or now, the Russian invasion, is a nonstop anxiety machine. The day 24/7 news became a thing was the day we enslaved ourselves and our sense of well-being to an outside force. Sometimes the coverage feeds on itself, reporters interviewing other reporters, and anchors hosting the same military talking heads all day and all night long, the same “news” repeated again and again.
I am rarely in a situation these days, whether out with a friend or gathering with family, that someone isn’t beeped and dinged with “breaking news.” This is the pandemic that will do us in.
In just these two weeks, we have traded our addiction to Covid news for minute-to-minute coverage of one country blowing another country to bits. Wherever I look, people are staring, transfixed, at their phones, like players in a dystopian science fiction story come true.
As we move into the third year of the pandemic (which clearly is not over
) and the first weeks of the Russian onslaught, we need to ground ourselves. That means time away from the news. As we move toward spring and the hope of warmer weather, we need to get up and out again, walking or biking or driving to someplace with open spaces. The signs of spring are always life-affirming, but you won’t find them on Fox or CNN. Get to the beach or walk around the block, and before you do, leave your buddy at home. That would be the phone, which can survive very nicely on its own while you live for a while in your own head.
Refreshed, we can carry on through this rough patch as we figure out how to stay safe and how to think about this war in Eastern Europe. We do not travel light. We carry the memory of nearly one million Americans who died of Covid.
We ventured out the other evening to sit in an outside tented area of a restaurant. It wasn’t perfect. It felt strange to wait for food, and I was impatient. This isn’t a new normal, I realize. There will never be a new normal. It will be something else, and we aren’t there yet.
As we begin Year Three of the pandemic and continue Month One of the Ukraine invasion, we must turn off the noise and find some quiet space to think.
Many of us need to restore our faith in the future. I grew up just expecting everything to be fine, and then there were the assassinations and the Vietnam War. Today teenagers are worrying about a draft or another pandemic. Comfort does not come from the media or any outside source. It comes from within, in its own time, when we find reason to believe again in the possibility of a peaceful future in a healthy world.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.