Monday, March 30, 2020

Survival Training

In the last three weeks, it feels like three months have passed! Every day our lives are changing as we face a deadly pandemic in our country. Although we are confined to home, and seem to have lots more time than usual, the time we have crawls.
Maybe it's the fear we're all feeling that changes our perception of time. We're all wondering if any of us will survive; whether we will survive.
To help you feel less afraid, I want to give you a message of survival, but be warned: it is not a message about how great you are, how you can accomplish your dreams, how this will all go away if we close our eyes and sing Kumbaya. (Confession: I love Kumbaya. My family has accused me of singing it at every funeral and pet grave. Hmm. Maybe they're right?) Still, this is not that kind of message.
Once, on vacation with friends, we visited Arches National Park in Utah. The scenery and hikes were spectacular. We decided to hike to the top of that famous arch that is in all the scenic magazines. I believe we intended to watch the moonrise. However, as darkness settled in, members of our group became uneasy. By full dark, they were just plain scared.
"There are mountain lions here," one woman said.
I shrugged. "We are four women chattering, they'll stay away from us."
"But what else is out there?" She didn't seem comforted by my mountain lion assessment, and had gone on to worry about bears.
That night I wondered why I was not afraid. In fact, I realized, I have very little fear of the wilderness. I am aware of dangers – such as the mountain lion that might have been watching our little group huddled in the dark on top of a giant rock – but I feel prepared with knowledge and experience to survive any encounter.
So where did I acquire that knowledge and experience? How did I gain confidence in the back country? When did I learn survival skills?
I learned as a child.
From my earliest memories, my family went camping, as far away from human habitation as my dad could get. We all learned to catch fish – my first catch was at 7, after my two little sisters! – to stay within shouting distance of camp, and to go downhill to water if we were ever truly lost. We were warned about the dangerous animals in the Rocky Mountain forest.
So much that I learned, I cannot even remember! I must have been told that screeching magpies and blue jays usually signal a predator nearby. I must have learned that if lost and hungry, I could always search for grubs in dead logs (Eww!). I must have learned how to use leaves and even pine needles for toilet paper, and to climb a slope carefully so that I wouldn't break a leg.
These lessons did not come as cheerleading: "Atta girl! Good job!" They came as calm, clear warnings. They were about my survival, not about my self-esteem.
There's a difference, isn't there?
I believe I am confident about being in the wilderness because I was taught survival skills, not how to accomplish something. The language of survival training is precise: "Here's what you do if you get lost: go downhill until you get to water and stay there." While my parents obviously hoped I would never get lost, they prepared me for it by explaining exactly what to do. If I actually became lost, they would not be there to cheer me on, I would be on my own.
We are in a time of survival. We are separated from each other, from the very social networks that often sustain us, encourage us. We lack comforts, such a TP, and food. We wish this whole thing would end tomorrow so we can get back to our lives. We obsessively watch the news or news feeds, counting the virus cases and deaths in the country, in our state, in our town. Our fears build.
Here is a survival message from me to you. By the time this pandemic is over:
·         We will have learned how to wipe our butts in inventive ways. (Personally, I'm saving up newspapers. Aint' comfy, but gets the job done.)
·         We will have improved our skills at Scrabble, Monopoly, jigsaw puzzles, Trivial Pursuit, chess, backgammon …
·         College dormitories might be obsolete! And also college cafeterias! (I did a lot of flirting in my college's cafeteria, so – Dang!)
·         We will appreciate our jobs, bosses, co-workers more than ever, or else we finally will leave that crummy job.
·         We might choose a new career path, such as health care; or leave a career path, such as health care.
·         We boomers will finally learn how to be on the internet beyond email and Facebook.
·         We will value Social Security and health care more than ever.
·         We will all have stories about our version of the illness: the fever, the fatigue, the lack of eggs in the house, the cough.
·         We will all know someone who died of coronavirus, probably from our own circle of friends and family.
Like being in the wilderness without survival skills, this is a scary time. Prepare yourself by being informed, keeping your family informed. Like my parents taught me what to do if I got lost, you can teach your kids about the reality of their lives right now. "Stay inside, keep a 6 foot distance from others, hands away from face, report if you feel hot or have a cough."
If I had a magic wand, I would load it with magic to reduce fear, and wave it over the whole world. I don't.
But I do have confidence. By this time next year, people will once again shop for toilet paper when they feel like it. The economy will be crawling back to health. Most of us will get sick, but we will be alive by this time next year.
See you next year, on the other side!

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