Is the coronavirus pandemic prompting you to take stock of your life? Are you spending some of the compelled time at home examining your past, present, and future? If so, you’re in good company. Put simply, facing one’s mortality and living under lockdown conditions has a way of encouraging big picture thinking.
In a recent piece for the Boston Globe (link here), journalist Beth Teitell examines this phenomenon:
If an entire region can have an existential crisis, we’re having one.
With COVID-19 cases mounting and the fear of death hovering, therapist Sam Nabil captured the question lurking barely beneath the surface:
“If I die now, have I lived the life I wanted to?”
For many, the answer is no. Spouses are being left, retirements pushed up, friends dropped. People are moving to rural spots and strengthening their faith, and those fortunate enough to have a choice are saying “no” to commuting.
At the core, so many of the individuals interviewed in Teitell’s piece refer to reassessing their values and priorities. It’s deep stuff, leading to decisions about how we want to live, what we want to do, and what people we want to hold close.
Perhaps this reassessment will not only lead us to better our own lives, but also individually and collectively move us toward creating a better society. Exploring this possibility for the New Yorker, author Lawrence Wright interviewed Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s Institute of the History of Medicine, about how the pandemic may shape our futures (link here). Dr. Pomata is an authority on, among other things, the history of the Black Plague of the Middle Ages.
Now living in Italy, one of the original hot zones for COVID-19 outbreaks, Pomata shared her historical perspective with Wright:
When we first talked, on Skype, she immediately compared covid-19 to the bubonic plague that struck Europe in the fourteenth century—“not in the number of dead but in terms of shaking up the way people think.” She went on, “The Black Death really marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of something else.” That something else was the Renaissance.
…“What happens after the Black Death, it’s like a wind—fresh air coming in, the fresh air of common sense.”
Although Pomata expressed shock over the resistance of so many Americans to follow basic public health precautions such as wearing masks, she sees the potential for a similar revitalizing response on a global level once we get through this pandemic:
“What I expect now is something as dramatic is going to happen, not so much in medicine but in economy and culture. Because of danger, there’s this wonderful human response, which is to think in a new way.”
So, I’m going to put on my law professor’s hat and say that the jury’s still out for me on whether our post-pandemic world will be a more enlightened one. After all, here in the U.S., we are witnesses to some of the most appalling ignorance and selfishness when it comes to undertaking preventive public health measures, and we have an alarming absence of competent leadership at the head of state.
Nevertheless, if humanity can come out of the utter carnage of the Black Plague to create the Renaissance, then we have the capacity to emerge from this pandemic with a vision for a much better world as well. That’s all the more reason to wear those masks, wash our hands, and stay socially distanced.