Outside, it’s a new winter. But inside, last winter never left.
I know I’m not alone in this storm of a pandemic. Some days though, when the flurries of new cases and old wounds get particularly heavy, it’s difficult to see that.
What’s heartbreaking is not just that COVID-19 has snuffed out the lives of over two million people worldwide already. It’s that these two million lives lost are still not enough to unite humanity to fight this together.
This is why the coronavirus is winning.
It went from squeezing through a gap in our immune system to ripping apart the seams of our society. In the process, our compassion slipped away. One of our greatest sources of strength as a species no longer stands beside us in this fight.
The absence weighs us down every day in the news, social media, and especially the dreaded comment sections.
These are the days when I want nothing more than to hunch my shoulders and burrow deeper into isolation.
But I know how that ends. I’ve done it time and time again.
I’d bury myself for so long that when I come back up gasping for breath, I’d forgotten how to use my voice.
My phone becomes a talisman I’d pick up to call for a connection of some sort with another being. A sign I’m not alone in this world.
I’d begin the ritual of scrolling down the contact list, sometimes even going as far as composing different mantras of greetings to friends who are now strangers. But my thumb refuses to reach for the button that would send my prayers to the cosmos.
Why would my prayers be heard when I’d abandoned my faith in humanity? What right do I have asking someone to let me back in when I chose to leave in the first place?
These doubts scream at me to drop the phone. Drop my hopes. Drop the notion that anyone would think I’m worthy enough of their time.
So I do. Anything to stop the repetitions of what I’d already accepted as the truth.
The phone darkens, along with all my thoughts unsaid. And I know they’ll remain so in a tomorrow that becomes months stretching into years.
When the first lockdowns started here in Canada, there was a sense of solidarity. Yes, it came with fear and uncertainty, but we also seemed to genuinely believe we could beat this if we all just pitched in to stay safe.
We tuned in to the daily government updates. We embraced the idea of working from home. We shared creative ideas about how we could make use of our quarantine time. We enthused over improving ourselves and coming out of this better than before.
After all, how long could a month be or even – heaven forbid – two?
And that was it, wasn’t it? We were willing to commit as long as there was an end in sight. An end that could only be seen if we trusted everyone to do their part.
Trust that vaccine manufacturers understand better than anyone the science behind their vaccines and what makes them effective. Trust that public health authorities are keeping close tabs on the latest coronavirus data and know what it takes to contain a pandemic. Trust that elected leaders will set politics aside and carry out public health recommendations. Trust that businesses and citizens will follow official health guidelines. Trust that family, friends, and neighbours will respect one another enough to prioritize public health over personal prejudice.
That is a lot to pin on such a fragile cycle of trust.
We’re taught from an early age that “trust has to be earned”. But if everyone is waiting for other people to “earn” their trust, it’s no wonder pandemic control measures were doomed to fail.
The only way this could’ve worked was if every single one of us was willing to pre-emptively give our trust to everyone else.
That is how the cycle begins.
I know it’s easier said than done. Especially when you’ve been let down once too many times.
The thing is though, the opposite reaction leads to an even darker place.
Withholding trust is a desperate act of self-preservation that sets off a self-fulling prophesy of loneliness.
I’ve lost so many people in my life that way who maybe could’ve been close friends if I’d let them in. To the point where I’m well into my thirties now and I honestly don’t know who I can call when I’m yearning for a friend to talk to. Or whom I can count on to spontaneously call me when I’m aching for someone out there to confirm that I exist.
And I can’t blame anyone except myself for that. I couldn’t bear to put my trust on the line so my answer was to withdraw from everyone.
The consequence is they’ll eventually move on. To expect them to still think about me after all these years is ridiculous. My misguided choice to let my insecurities get in the way of lasting friendships is a lifelong regret I’ll never be able to shake.
All these feelings of loneliness churned up to the surface during the pandemic. I no longer had the day-to-day public interactions to maintain the illusion that people can see me.
The only reason I’ve been able to keep it together for this long is my fiancée. The way she brings out joy I never knew I had in me. The way she reminds me every day that I do matter.
What has stood out for me lately is how my life with her wouldn’t have been possible had I not taken a leap of faith.
I was going through a particularly long period of depression at the time. Even though I’d gotten pretty good at hiding it from people, she must’ve sensed something because she asked me if I wanted to talk about it.
I was on the verge of giving my well-trained, smiling reassurance that everything is fine. But what spilled out from me was a relieved, “Yes, I’d like that very much.”
Of course, I immediately panicked after we set a time to chat over drinks. To this day, I still don’t know what made me agree to it. I just knew then I had to find a way to get over my panic. There’s no backing out because I’d already said yes and I always make a point of taking commitments seriously.
As I sat there waiting for her to arrive, I thought about why I’m making this so hard on myself. Here I have the opportunity of opening up to someone who cared enough to reach out to me. Why not trust that she values this opportunity for connection just as much as I do?
So when she walked in, I smiled. And for the first time in my life, my smile felt genuine. We talked until closing time and it was the beginning of countless conversations over the years that always start from trust.
We’re now at a point where a light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. Vaccine manufacturers are working around the clock to meet global demand. At this rate, the Canadian population can expect to be fully vaccinated by December 2021.
But it could be a very long tunnel if we keep making the same mistake of refusing to trust one another. Of withdrawing into our own dark thoughts and assuming the worst of others. Of neglecting to empathize with the fact that they may be suffering just like us and in different ways than we can imagine.
Maybe we really could’ve beaten the coronavirus in two months if we had pre-emptively trusted everyone right from the very beginning. We’ll never know because we never even gave ourselves that chance to try.
I’m not saying that trust itself is going to solve everything. But it is the starting point that makes any and all solutions possible.
Trust first. Reach out to talk with one another, no matter how different they are from you. Listen and try to understand what’s blocking them from moving forward. Work together to overcome common obstacles. And finally, be willing to ask for help over personal struggles and to offer help over theirs when able.
If we all deliberately practise this every day, how can the presumed differences between us not fade away? How can the old wounds that divide us not heal? How can the compassion that unites and strengthens us not return?
As for me, I will start reaching out to people I’ve lost touch with over the years. I’ll try to rekindle old friendships and hopefully also make new ones. It may be awkward – as I often am in all things social – but I trust we’ll find a way through together.