The insufferable life
We will only compound the harm to ourselves if we cling to a false impression that a perfect Covid-19 response was within reach.
We've been through quite a lot over the last 18 months. "We" being, basically, every single person alive on Planet Earth. The Covid-19 pandemic has put the entire planet, all at once and at the same time, through extraordinary stress and no small amount of emotional deprivation. We are social beings -- even the introverts among us -- and we thrive only through our contact and cooperation with others. We form families, friendships, and social tribes of many forms because our evolutionary makeup has rewarded cooperation and social learning. It's literally in our blood to work together.
■ Being forced to stay apart from one another, observing standards for paradoxically-named "social distancing", and conducting many facets of life from home has been difficult for virtually all of us. Some places have been better equipped than others to handle the changes. Some parts of the world (and some aspects of life) have been better able to adapt than others. But it's hard to think of anyone who might have escaped entirely untouched by some form of preventative measure undertaken to limit the spread of a dreadful contagious disease.
■ And in that time, we have still lost more than 4 million lives worldwide. The arrival of fantastic, effective, and world-changing vaccines has been a profound blessing. It is too soon to forget what happened in New York and Seattle when the pandemic was new -- nor the way it shook Italy. And it's too early to forget that the United States had a second close scrape with disaster again in late 2020. The vaccines arrived not a moment too soon.
■ Now we must grapple with the cleanup (and, lest we forget, only a limited portion of the world has yet been vaccinated -- there's still a long way to go). The economic cost of the pandemic has been real, and now we're starting to assess the consequences for mental health. Drug overdoses grew dramatically in 2020, and parents are reaching out for help in vast numbers as they care for the mental wellness of their children.
■ It is entirely unfair what has happened to kids. Around the world, many were deprived of in-person contact with their friends and teachers for some or even all of the last 16 months. And some school systems can be well and vigorously faulted for remaining closed to in-person learning long after the protocols for safe re-opening had been shown effective in other places.
■ We could look back on the precautions imposed to contain the pandemic with resentment and anger. Some people already have. But we are free to see instead that once the pandemic was underway, many people in positions of authority had to make the best choices they could with the information available to them at the time. Many, if not most, of those choices were made in good faith. They may have been too cautious or too cavalier. Those choices may have been based on faulty assumptions that were later corrected (remember how much fear was associated with transmission via contaminated surfaces?). Many of those choices would be revised now in light of what is now known in retrospect.
■ But one thing it would be not only nuts but self-injuring to do is to harbor broad-based resentment and anger over difficult decisions made in a pandemic-driven fog of war. The psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote that "In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice." We ought to reflect on the sacrifices that were made -- to varying degrees, by virtually everyone on Earth -- as burdens we carried because we, as social beings, wanted to keep large numbers of other people from dying.
■ The data and the decisions were imperfect. And we undeniably owe ourselves and our fellow humans some relief -- there is no time like the immediate present to seriously examine what can and should be done on a society-wide basis for mental wellness care. It's long overdue to make mental health as much a mainstream matter of concern as dental care, and nothing has made it a more universal subject of personal concern as the pandemic. We all know that we have all been struggling.
■ But to choose to live in resentment, or to look at hard decisions confronted in good faith guided only by imperfect information and label them unforgivable and "largely for nothing", is to choose to be tied to a boat anchor sunk in a painful past. As Theodore Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
■ Kids themselves are inclined to see their struggles as stories of triumph over adversity. What humans undertook in the last year and a half was hard -- but the objective of saving countless lives was noble, and a worthwhile endeavor. We won't emerge better from it if we deny that the response was imperfect. But we will only compound our self-harm if we cling to a false impression that perfection was within reach and was stolen from us. We can either try to repair the injury that was done along the way, or wallow in bitter resentment that the injury ever happened. Only the former choice affirms that there is much more life to be lived.