Coronavirus - A marathon, not a sprint

In the world of COVID-19, a lot can happen in a week. Tonight, as the Australian borders shut to non-residents, today has felt like another major turning point.

Last weekend we had a few guests for dinner – we all had a feeling it would be our ‘last supper’, so we drank some excellent red wine and ate comforting lamb shanks and mashed potato. Even just last week we couldn’t believe that our dinner party conversation was focused on rations, school closures and shopping strategies.

Yet tonight, after a rollercoaster of a week and exponential new developments daily, I feel like I am now calmly surrendering to a period of deep uncertainty and huge change in our lives. Surrendering to our ‘new normal’ where social interaction and all that we know is fundamentally changing, at least for the immediate future. But there is positive to all this - slowing down, re-connecting and spending more time with our families, and indeed, writing this blog for a change.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been an angst-ridden week, and admittedly this time last week I raced around buying bone broth, Nespresso pods, TV remote control batteries and kids’ art supplies in preparation for a period of isolation. I read school updates waiting to see if the school will shut down, I consumed a lot of online news and subsequently I have turned off notifications for unhelpful Facebook community groups showing photos of empty shelves. But while my anxiety has escalated, I’ve balanced that with spacious outdoor exercise, Vitamin D and some pantry spring-cleaning. Our friends here are naturally checking in more with each other, gravitating to ‘walks and talks’ instead of café catch-ups and supporting each other.

Now that my small freezer is full, I do feel mentally prepared to settle down at home and hunker down. The fact is, we all have a role to play in minimising the impact of this apocalyptic virus and really, I was trying to step back a bit socially this year anyway. Just not 1.5 metres away from my close friends.

I recently posted online some beautiful words by a stranger called Kitty O’Meare - here is an excerpt:

"And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply....And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal...."

I took great comfort in this, and will try to remind myself of these words every time I feel anxious or frustrated.

Image - Wix

While I’m slowly surrendering to the marathon ahead, my brain is also still trying to process what the hell just happened to our lives… The rapid change and situation we now face is nothing other than surreal. As my husband described it, we need to put in a wartime effort. I for one, think we need to step back, take stock and take a big deep breath to just re-set ourselves to this new way of life.

I’m not scared about the virus itself for my immediate young family (grandparents excluded!), but the freedom of being able to go to my birth country, New Zealand, and see my parents (who are now hopefully isolating) at the drop of a hat, has effectively been robbed from me. That is hard – so stay well, Kiwi folk.

One thing which has stood out for me amongst all of the online commentary on COVID-19, is the question of what would happen if we all reacted to climate change in the same, rapid, collective way we are responding to Coronavirus? Both are threats to our lives – yet COVID-19 is immediate and we can see the direct impact – we have numbers, tests, statistics, proof that the virus is causing deaths. We know how we catch it. So we avoid it. It is visibly causing cataclysmic, universal damage like nothing we have ever seen in our lifetime.

Climate change is also slowly but surely causing catastrophic damage and killing our habitat, which is clearly unprecedented but for many people the threat does not feel imminent to them. The harsh reality is until something is right in our face – like a deadly lion chasing us - many of us still seem to push it to one side and don’t feel threatened. The daily impact of climate change on our lives is evident and real – just remember the bush fires of 3 months ago – but it is like a silent, creeping distant threat that we seem to be able to put in the too hard basket, or think ‘it won’t really kill me’. And perhaps it won’t, but it will impact the following generations and slowly kill our way of life.

So as we go through this pandemic, try not to forget about climate change – instead, think of how quickly we have all been forced to adapt in this scenario, and think about changes we can make to protect the environment once we are through this crazy time. Even the impact of less travel to work, overseas flights and less material consumption as people restrain spending are key tools in reducing emissions.

I also found this Tedx Talk by leading global health expert Alanna Shaikh hugely interesting and enlightening – with one of the key points for me is that pandemics like this will continue to happen, and that they are a direct result of society pushing the environment to its limits.

“This is not the last major outbreak we're ever going to see. There's going to be more outbreaks, and there's going to be more epidemics. That's not a maybe; that's a given. And it's a result of the way that we, as human beings, are interacting with our planet. Human choices are driving us into a position where we're going to see more outbreaks. Part of that is about climate change and the way a warming climate makes the world more hospitable to viruses and bacteria. But it's also about the way we're pushing into the last wild spaces on our planet. When we burn and plow the Amazon rain forest so that we can have cheap land for ranching, when the last of the African bush gets converted into farms, when wild animals in China are hunted to extinction, human beings come into contact with wildlife populations that they've never come into contact with before, and those populations have new kinds of diseases: bacteria, viruses - stuff we're not ready for…..So as long as we keep making our remote places less remote, the outbreaks are going to keep coming.”

So while we all dig deep and try to keep calm and carry on, I wonder if perhaps this virus is a wake up call about our environment, albeit a horrific one. Weren’t our Australian bushfires enough? As we distance ourselves physically from each other, pick up the phone, stay connected more than ever and nourish yourself - but also reflect about what we want for our world when we emerge from this crisis.

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