COVID Journals: Fear of Death

Hello, good people. It’s been a while.

I took a few months off to focus on wellness. Events were happening faster than I could process them. My brain became overloaded. I felt constricted from the stress. Emotions were heavy. Ultimately, my heart, mind, body and soul fell out of alignment. So I took some time to rest and recalibrate. Self-care is paramount for all of us right now.

I might also add that I’ve been more hesitant to post if I don’t have something new or helpful to add to the collective dialogue. What could I possibly say about our current situation…what analysis or insight could I offer…that hasn’t already been put out there? It seems prudent not to add to the cacophony of social media unless I feel I’m bringing some measure of value. That sensibility hasn’t changed; I don’t know if there will be anything of benefit in this mostly extemporaneous post. But the connection feels important all the same.

In a post I wrote shortly after Trump was elected, I suggested that in order to survive mentally and emotionally, we would need to square with our own mortality and any fear of death that we have. My thinking was (and is) that if we can get comfortable with the ultimate unknown of our existence, this would steel us for the sure affronts of a Trump presidency. I felt then, as I believe many of us did, that he could potentially kill us. And this was in no way hyperbole. Of course, in 2016, we didn’t know of COVID’s impending breakout. We also didn’t know the extent of dysfunction a Trump presidency would bring. We imagined. Oh yes, we did. But it’s gone far beyond our worst visualizations, beyond comprehension really.

Personally, I’ve been shocked that the system of checks and balances, which was created to protect us from presidential misdeeds and authoritarianism, has eroded so horrifically these past four years. I never imagined there would ever be such a troubling coterie of sycophantic enablers willing to destabilize the country, especially in service to such vile and unprincipled leadership, if you can even call it “leadership.” My naivety, however, is the result of my white privilege. Black and brown people have never enjoyed these protections and have lived under stress, uncertainty and terror for hundreds of years. To quote a meme I saw just today: “Maybe a bunch of white slave owners from the 1700’s did not come up with the best government ever.” Shame on me for harboring the illusion for so long.

All of these things said, this administration’s lack of response to COVID-19 is still shocking. Historically, public crises, such as 9-11, have brought people together, at least for a period. These world-changing events usually force us to stop in our tracks and acknowledge, even briefly, our shared humanity and to tap into a compassion that I want to think is innate in each of us. However, COVID-19, under Trump’s watch, has been more divisive than ever. Scientific facts and protocols, put forth to protect us all and mitigate the disease, have been questioned, ridiculed and politicized; this started with the president himself and reverberated across the country. And under Trump’s increasingly fascist direction, scientific and medical experts have been stifled and institutions that were once renowned and reputable are rapidly losing credibility. Transparency has been replaced by questionable narratives crafted to put the administration in a favorable light, regardless of the damage.

And as of this writing, over 200,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19

Meanwhile, against this grim backdrop, this administration continues its ongoing assault on the American people: citizens exercising First Amendment rights denied due process and subjected to state-sanctioned violence; racism and white nationalism are conflated as patriotism; rampant voter suppression and continued obfuscation around Russian interference in the electoral process; weighing the judiciary with lifelong appointments of far-right judges; a relentless attack on transgender people and their rights; denial of climate change and lifting restrictions that protect the environment; public disregard for and flaunting of constitutional law and societal norms; criminal behavior with arrogant impunity and the complete corruption of the Attorney General, who bends (or breaks) whatever laws necessary to keep the criminal-in-chief safe. Perhaps most egregious is the aforementioned intentional and reckless endangerment of the American people around COVID-19.

And this brings us back to the fear of death.

It seems to me that the fear of death is the root fear from which all other fears emanate. The sooner we can square with that, the better equipped we are to mentally survive the dystopian chaos we find ourselves in. If we make some kind of peace with our own mortality, we can deal with anything else that comes at us. It’s just my theory anyway. I certainly have no clue as to how we do it. My attitude towards death changes day to day. Some days, the thought of it terrifies me and the sadness of being separated from the people I love is almost too much to bear. But other days, it feels like maybe death would bring some relief, especially now. And there’s always that comforting idea of blissfully reuniting with those who have gone before. Either way, death is the only true certainty in life. We have to reconcile that inescapable truth at some point.

Maybe an easier thing would be to cultivate a more graceful equilibrium for the here and now. Meditation has been enormously helpful for me in this regard. In fact, it’s been like a lifeline these past several months. Even under “normal” circumstances, I’m prone to overthinking. With a hair-trigger amygdala, it doesn’t take much for my brain to start churning away and speculating on worse case scenarios. Meditation helps me forge new neural pathways, curb negative thought patterns and restore a sense of balance. Mindfulness practice, in particular, slows everything down, allows me to let go and to be with things as they are, no matter how difficult. It provides spacious refuge from the madness. To be clear, it takes daily effort. There’s a reason they call it “practice.” But I know without question that meditation is my most effective tool for staying sane.

While I’m here, I want to say a word about voting. More specifically, I hope you’re all planning to do it. I feel like our only hope to kill this beast is in a colossal suffocating landslide. It can be our Wizard of Oz moment, like when Dorothy throws water on the Wicked Witch of the West. I’ve talked to some young adults who are choosing not to vote. They see both candidates as products of a violent capitalist system and voting as an exercise in legitimizing that system. I understand the sentiment. And I might add that my vote for Biden is more to stop the hemorrhaging than it is enthusiasm for the candidate. Still, I’d rather take my chances with a flawed president and a broken system than a full-on authoritarian dictatorship with a malignant narcissist at the helm. I also want us all the vote because the GOP is so hell bent on making it impossible for us to do so. Voting for me is a big middle finger to the GOP and their relentless campaign of voter suppression. Keep in mind, they wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t afraid of losing, not only the presidency but their majority in Congress as well.

On a quick side note: I want to honor the passing of Eddie Van Halen, who died of cancer yesterday.  It was so sad to hear this news. It also brought up fond memories of being a teenager in Ponca City, Oklahoma. I remember driving around Lake Ponca with Rick Williams, smoking weed and listening to Van Halen at full volume. Rick never made it to adulthood. Hopefully, though, he and Eddie are rocking out together now.

The United States is an imperfect union. And there are countless abuses, atrocities and inequities that absolutely must be rectified. Our history isn’t pretty. But I believe what we’re experiencing now is truly unprecedented and quite bewildering. For me, every day is an exercise in staying grounded and sane. As a friend said the other day, “The world has, is, and always will be a crazy place. It’s our job to make sure it doesn’t make us crazy too…and try to do a little good while we are at it.” Bingo.

2020 has proven to be one relentless asshole. And it doesn’t look like it’s letting up anytime soon. Take good care and stay safe out there.