I had a dream last Saturday in which everyone I cared about had died from COVID-19. Unlike some of my PTSD flashbacks/nightmares, I couldn’t wake up from this dream. I couldn’t stop what has happening in the dream and I couldn’t change the narrative. I woke up drenched in sweat and freaking out. The dream made me take a look at something I’ve been pushing aside for quite a while.
For the most part, my life hasn’t changed that much since March when I started social distancing. I have a hard time at the best of times mingling with people, being out in public, and being social. I do my weekly shopping just after 8 a.m., on Mondays when there aren’t many people in Safeway. I get what I need and get home without interacting with anyone except the cashier.
I noticed sometime in early July I was becoming overly concerned about what would happen to people as I watched politicians, from the top on down, downplay COVID-19. They deferred and lied to the American public even though the science is there and we could read and learn about the virus and how other countries were handling the pandemic.
For three months, I pushed those thoughts out of my head. I can’t control what happens to other people. I can’t control if anyone I care about gets COVID-19. I can’t really do anything except be supportive and compassionate toward anyone who gets the disease, regardless of whether it was through their own stupidity or not.
Then, Saturday happened. The dream really shook me. It was vivid and felt real. In the dream, Scottsbluff had lost more than 2/3 of its population. I tried not to leave my house at all for fear of catching the disease. I was alone. Paul, and everyone else I know, was dead.
After settling down a bit and getting back to sleep so I could go to my job later in the evening, I sat down around 2 a.m., at work and read an essay by security expert Bruce Schneier, which gave me a better sense of what we’re all experiencing now.
Schneier wrote about the forgotten Christian term, acedia.
Acedia was a malady that apparently plagued many medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.
Although my dream was about losing everyone I cared about, I also struggle with the feeling of where do we go from here. I witness people every day who don’t seem to care about other human beings. We are also struggling with trying to figure out what our future is going to look like.
Our future includes our immediate surroundings, such as what is Scottsbluff going to look like, but it also includes what will America look like, what will the world look like, what relationships will countries have with one another. We don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Before the pandemic, we might not have been able to specifically answer those questions, but we knew, general, things would mostly advance as they had been with a few innovative and progressive leaps forward.
As time goes on and the pandemic continues, our sense of the future becomes more vague. As we are bombarded daily with more uncertainty, acedia starts to seep into our thoughts.
I don’t know where my world is going. I can’t control what is going to happen and my comforts which provide me time to think and breathe have largely been taken from me. While I could fly to New York to see my family, that is highly risky. One of my favorite pastimes is traveling to other countries. I garner great peace from seeing Earth and learning about other cultures. Americans are no longer welcome in most of the places I want to go to.
In order to regain some perspective, I spent three days at Custer State Park in early August. A big part of who I am is a traveler. It is how I continue to care about others while learning about the wonderful things other people have to offer and share.
As selfish as it sounds, I didn’t get my vacation in 2019. My mother-in-law passed away 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave for a 12-day vacation to Prague. Instead, I spent my time sitting in a hotel in Preston, England while funeral preparations were made.
This year, Paul and I were planning our trip when the pandemic hit. For two years, I didn’t get the life-changing perspective I normally get that keeps me going, keeps me from saying, “Fuck it. I don’t care anymore.”
I didn’t realize until early July that a large part of me has no future right now. There is a real possibility the future I had envisioned might not exist for me again in my lifetime. I have spent considerable time deeply saddened by this prospect.
So, because I am me, my brain took these thoughts to the extreme. It showed me a world where I am alone and no one cares about anything anymore.
As I pondered that dream, I realized none of us knows what the future is going to look like or how it will be shaped by current policies. Our previous notions of what the future will look like has changed, maybe forever. That feeling of hopelessness causes me anxiety, but I realized I need to hold on to the things I have always valued. For me, it’s how I can overcome the changes we are witnessing.
Our routines have changed, but we don’t have to suffer from acedia. We need to continue to challenge ourselves to be better people, to be more caring, and know that whatever the world looks like on the other side of this pandemic, we can face it together.
I hope I don’t have that dream again. I hope I can continue to remember when the thoughts arise that we don’t have to give in to acedia. It doesn’t have to be our collective mindset.
COVID-19 has been a life-altering event for all of us. By looking across the political and cultural spectrum, we can see the humanity in each other, be vulnerable together, and know we do not have to suffer alone.
I don’t have a lot of personal supports. While there are people out there who care about me, my support network who know me intimately is relatively small. We’ve been checking in on each other, sending each other stupid cat memes and TikTok videos. We are having silly and serious chats to remember we really do need to care about each other.
We might have no control over the larger things that happen – that is in the hands of the politicians worldwide – but we can control our small part of the world. If we can tackle acedia here, we can tackle it everywhere, and, maybe, the politicians will wake up and follow.