Knowns & Unknowns

One of the most disconcerting aspects of living through a pandemic is the assortment of unknowns we face on a daily basis.

How many infected? How many dead? Transmission rate? Spikes, plateaus, curves?

How many actually infected and killed by this disease, in true numbers, rather than what we’re able to measure with our imperfect systems and data?

When will we be able to go out in public on a regular basis again, without first wrapping ourselves in protective layers?

When will be able to shake hands again, hug again, participate in physical shared social experiences again?

It’s difficult to say. And it’s likely that even the most informed among us don’t know, because this isn’t a matter of the information being available to some but not to all, it’s a matter of wildly incomplete information that is in constant flux, shifting day to day with the legal measures implemented and the behaviors of individuals at all levels—from the halls of our governments to the homes of our friends and family.

Also difficult to cope with, in a very different way, are the countless new and uncomfortable understandings and realities that can emerge under these sorts of circumstances.

Many of us are finding ourselves playing a role in an ostensibly historical moment, and perhaps not performing as we always suspected or hoped we might under such conditions and with the stakes this high.

We’re also being forced to sit with ourselves and our loved ones for stretches of time, in some cases for longer durations than ever before, and there are pros and cons to the torrent of knowledge that can stem from such forced, all-at-once engagement and revelation.

For some, this might lead to a change in dynamic between ourselves and our loved ones: probably for the better, in most cases, at least in the long-term. But the pressure-cooker encompassment can be too much for some relationships to survive, as was illustrated by the surge of divorces in China as stay-at-home rules were loosened.

This lockdown may force more of us to spend time with our own thoughts, behaviors, and needs, too, helping us face uncomfortable facets of ourselves and explore previously under-examined internal territory: often to our immediate discomfort but lifelong benefit.

There are people around the world who are truly suffering right now, through medical, psychological, and economic hardships. There are people who are being asked to maintain the connective tissue of society while the rest of us shelter in place, and for these people, this pandemic represents trauma of a very present and tangible variety.

For those of us who are not providing vital services like medical aid, stocking grocery store shelves, or delivering mail, though, it’s possible for this moment to become a vague, blurry procession of days, spiked with panicky adrenaline surges and mellowed by depressive lows, but otherwise defined by the ever-present sense of knowing too much or too little.

Recognizing the unknowns as being temporary can help, as can providing assistance to those who are uncovering and sharing knowledge, and those who’re keeping all of us in good health in the meantime: charities, public health organizations, and local news entities, for instance.

It can also help to recognize that getting to know ourselves and our relationships more thoroughly is a gift, if we choose to see it that way. This knowledge can help us reassess our priorities, make appropriate changes to our habits and goals, and adjust our interpersonal dynamics: honing our communication skills, having deep (and perhaps, difficult) conversations, and eventually, arriving at a better understanding of who we are individually, and who we are in the context of the partnerships and groups of which we’re a part.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.

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