A Strange Kind of Peace

I feel changed. I can’t quite put my finger on how, but something in me isn’t the same as it was before Covid-19. Seeing those words brings tears to my eyes; I feel like I’m mourning the loss of a friend. Maybe it’s just the loss of innocence I’m lamenting, or maybe it’s the loss of something more, something fundamental to the way I’ve lived my life so far.

The first time I felt the change was walking on the beach a few days or a few weeks ago; time has lost its meaning. The days have become one; now there are periods of activity separated by periods of sleep. Sometimes it’s sleep; sometimes just rest or a ceasing of movement. That day on the beach, I realized that my mind had ceased to move in its usual frantic, chaotic patterns; it was resting, quiet, at a strange kind of peace. The world felt still in a way that I’ve never experienced, and I was just there on the beach with my dog, the sound of the waves, the beating of my heart, the sting of saltwater.

This time two terms ago, I found myself in a class called The Rhetoric of Disaster; my biggest concern related to disaster at that time seems so trivial now, so small and self-centered. My fears, despite the global tragedies unfolding around the world, were focused on disasters of a personal nature. I’d never taken a class in rhetoric before and this was an advanced one; I wasn’t even sure I knew what rhetoric is. The only disaster that I feared at that time, just a few short months ago, was my world falling apart if I didn’t get an “A.” One of the first readings for the class was an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell in which she argues that disaster brings out the best in us, that we are at our most generous and altruistic when society, our shared world, falls apart. I didn’t fully agree. I do now.

I live in a tiny coastal community in Oregon called Twin Rocks, which is just outside of an only slightly less tiny community called Rockaway Beach. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, I have witnessed the altruism that Solnit speaks of in both myself and in others. This community has come together to do whatever it can to support local businesses to an extent that I could not have dreamed of before Covid-19; people are leaving $100 tips when buying a $4.00 latte and buying $500 gift cards to give business owners some cash to keep them and as many of their employees as possible afloat during this time.

What is it about disaster that brings this out in us—this impulse to help our neighbors and communities, our friends and family, and even strangers? But is anyone really a stranger? The quieting of my mind and the world has allowed me to feel something that I believe was there all along, just drowned out by the noise of modern civilization and the constant buzz of productivity, the hum of the energy that connects us all. We cannot survive alone; we need each other to thrive as a society. Everyone and everything matters; I see and feel that in a way that I hadn’t before. Will that continue when this is over? Is the change that I feel permanent? I truly hope so.

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