When schools closed on March 16, in the best of cases, many parents became some form of homeschool teacher. (In the worst of cases, children became food insecure or otherwise less safe when schools closed, despite the necessity of closures. A little more on that here.) My social media feeds have been full of posts from these new home educators, some of whom have relevant experience and others who don’t. Some have the benefit of well-structured remote teaching from schools; others struggle to maintain a steady schedule.
Admiring these antics and efforts reminds me that my responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic are remarkable few. Nothing I’ll go on to say means that not having children—or not following any prescribed path—is a less worthy life. Yet rearing children is undoubtedly a full-time job unto itself. I also believe that finding some higher purpose, which a family often is, and serving that purpose is key to joy and hope in a generally fragile world. Naturally times of crisis either lead or force us to consider our larger purposes.
On a coworker’s recommendation, I read a wonderful book called Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. In the third chapter, authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski discuss meaning, which they posit is “the nourishing experience of feeling like we’re connected to something larger than ourselves. It helps us thrive when things are going well, and it helps us cope when things go wrong.” Each of us find meaning from a larger purpose that we feel within ourselves and feel compelled to realize in the world. For many folks, whether they have children or plan to, family is at least a large part of this purpose. For others, especially those of us who have chosen careers as public servants, building and supporting community is part of that purpose.
As Richland Library has closed in-person services for the safety of our community, I’m disconnected from that facet of my purpose. I’m also childless and young enough that I’m not responsible for any older family members. This puts me in the privileged position of having the time and security to evaluate my purpose in the midst of a crisis. It’s also lonely; now in roughly the fourth week of social distancing throughout the Midlands, I’m bored of distractions and antsy to feel more purposeful. In a time when banding together as family, friends, and communities would be hugely comforting, we must not and often cannot. The internet holds plenty of advice for how to connect with people you can’t visit, such as this article from esteemed psychotherapist Esther Perel. But we can’t be on FaceTime at literally all hours, so what can we do to stay connected in solitude or at least ease the loneliness?
We can't "believe" our way out of oppression, exile, or despair. But when we make meaning, we can sustain ourselves through worse things than we can imagine.
I’m grateful to not have seen too many pushes for everyone to be wildly productive during this time. Side hustles provide critical income for plenty of people, so support those folks as you are able, but there’s no reason to create a gig of your own just for the sake of productivity. As it happens, pushing productivity too hard during the COVID-19 pandemic could be bad for you.
In the United States’ extroverted, family- and work-focused society, how do we stay connected to purpose and meaning if we’re barred from our communities and can’t perform (or lost) our jobs? The meaning-making process will look different for everyone, so there isn’t a quick fix or numbered list I can offer. Much of this pandemic, for those of us who are fortunate to have time and space, is going to be about patience and listening. Lean into boredom, release yourself from any false ideas about hyper-productivity, and be open to a new or different purpose during this new normal.
For those who are in need of more immediate assistance, please contact Richland Library for information on resources. You can also check out these blog posts on support for small businesses and job seekers.