Privilege in a Pandemic

The world is facemasks and ventilators. We are a globe of 7 billion six feet apart. CDC updates roar in as the US leads the COVID 19 virus totals. Busy city streets dim t ghost towns on government orders. Service industry workers find themselves on GoFundMe as their paychecks are no longer available. Friends celebrate their birthdays virtually on face time to avoid further contamination. The world is part post-apocalyptic part sleeping giant, and suddenly toilet paper has become the most precious in the resource war. Somehow, I’m fine.

I’m not fine because I’m innately chill. We all know that is not the case. My being is the antithesis of nonchalant. I’m the opposite of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. It’s hard to believe, I know, but no one has compared me to Jeff Bridges. No, I’m fine because of privilege– to be born in the developed world and draw the double helix lottery of a mighty immune system fortified by middle class health care and a robust education that lead to a job with benefits.

It’s not as if I’m calm because I’m ignoring this. Like a tragedy porn addict, I parooze news articles and scope out pictures from Italy where the virus lurks deeply. I watch the numbers daily. This is not the essay where I tell you what to do. I’m not a doctor, a public health professional, or any other expert. I don’t pretend to know your experience, Reader. All I can say is that it’s valid– whatever it is. And maybe you’re existing in a purgatory of stillness like I am. Instagram tells me this is a trauma response– that because so much of my life has felt like a pandemic inside one body– my nervous system has been prepared for this. While not inaccurate, privilege is a larger actor.

I get to work from home. I have an office job. Prior to these happenings, I’d already secured plans for solid housing, food, and paid off my car. My health is not fragile for now. I am young, without any pre-existing conditions, and not pregnant. I also have health insurance were those things to change. I am also not exceptionally young where this virus throws a wrench into my senior prom, primary schooling, college graduation. I ascended through these milestones with minimal interruptions. The stakes are lower for me.

Right now feels like an exhale for me. My mind races at a million miles a minute. There is no off button. And hell, my schedule is a never ending hamster wheel. Psychology books tell me this is a panic response– that if I am so fast and busy then I am distracted from the emotional work necessary to heal. I agree with that. In the past 2 years, I’ve done extensive work focused on doing more than surviving. I am done being exhausted all the time. I no longer want my life to be a giant campaign hoping someone might pick me or love me even if that’s tethered to a thousand conditions. I no longer want to live a life where everything is able to be abandoned. Despite that work, I didn’t (and don’t) know how to stop. The quarantine is a red light to all the non-essentials. For me and my privileged ass, that includes a lot of worries. The white noise of my normal routine is silenced enough for me to hear my own breath. I remember to drink water. I am actually sleeping. I feel guilty for all these little luxuries.

Somewhere I heard that survivors of incredible trauma like genocide or wildfires don’t want the lucky people to feel guilt. Survivors of those atrocities want people like me to understand what we have with gratitude. There’s no way to do that if I’m constantly committed to this self-loathing for being lucky. I try not to take it for granted. I’m not a saint. You know that, Reader. But I don’t believe saintliness or anywhere near it should be necessary for health, a livable wage, a warm place to sleep and confidence in where that next meal will come from. I believe people deserve that. I am a person, and by my own logic, I am not so special that I can guilt-out of deserving what I would gladly give to everyone if I could.

Despite being all self love online, my favorite past time is verbally lacerating myself. I meditate on my mistakes, snack on uncertainties, replay social gaffes from three years go like they matter now. Right now, I want to guilt myself– call myself undeserving of this reprieve. “Who the hell do you think you are? How indulgent to write about this?” Then, I stop the barking voice in my head. It will never move out. I’ve just become the boss over it. Because even if all these things are true, those thoughts aren’t helpful.

What is helpful is asking “what can I give and where is it needed?” First of all, I stay in my house with as few people as possible. SOCIAL DISTANCING. Some of the information is up for grabs on the internet. I’ve ordered a lot of takeout from local restaurants. I’ve contributed to GoFundMes for Bar and Restaurant workers temporarily out of the job. I’ve signed petitions for health and fitness folks. I’ve venmoed freelancers and business owners and service workers and artists. My social media stories now feature me asking my folks how I can best support them because I don’t the answer. I’m checking on everyone in my life. Reader, I’m not doing this perfectly. I’m not a model citizen. I am still that wiley millennial those news articles are written about. There are people working until mask lines press into their faces. Janitors and grocery clerks and delivery drivers all risking their health for their paychecks. So, I figure the least I can do while glued to my phone on my couch is help.

Privilege itself is a position. It’s neutral. In a perfect world, we would all have the same conditions but we don’t. To be privileged or oppressed is based on if systemic structures benefit a person. The structures at play in the COVID19 virus benefit me at the moment. So it’s what I chose to do with that privilege is a comment on whether my actions are good or bad. I believe I am what I do. In times like this when people are literally saving lives and I’m clicking through electronic approvals on items, I ask myself what my fiercest, baddest bitch self would do, and I do that. I don’t tell myself I’m not her yet. I don’t doubt myself. Doctors and nurses don’t get that luxury, and I don’t think it’s worthwhile for any of us to hold back either. Give big, love hard, social distance harder. And at the end of the day, all of those people who are busting their asses for us at home, they enjoy that rest. So I can too. The goal is to come out of this, and we will. What we do now determines how we emerge from this pandemic. That’s true for the country, but also for me.

I don’t care how cheesy it sounds to say that we are in this together. Even if it feels lonely and shaky, the day is coming when we can hug and be close and jesus are we going to cherish that. And I guess the little I’m doing now is how I hold people close in the meantime– a virtual squeeze from my hand to yours, “this is messy, friend, and I’m not going anywhere”. There’s no guilt in pulling the golden ticket. But there’s satisfaction in trying to do good and help. There’s honor in aligning with the solution as opposed to just against the problem. So that’s where I’m standing– at six feet away for now.

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