What do you mean, don’t panic?


Everyone says, “Don’t panic!” I say, “Don’t panic for long.” Reacting to the cascading news about the coronavirus epidemic includes feeling the shock of the news viscerally. It’s not comfortable. No one wants it to be real. There’s too much unknown to deal with. We like our predictable routines and expectations even though we know there are a lot of things generically wrong with our routines and expectations. You get a few minutes to freak out.

But this is one time when you can’t stay in that mode. You must find your warrior self and deal with momentous events from a grounded place of acceptance. That is the heroic journey: accepting what you don’t want. Mostly these moments of coming to terms with adversity are personal, but now it is personal and collective. The known world is going through this and none of our lives are going to be the same.

The magnitude of this crisis includes economic consequences that cannot be imagined or prevented because the structure of the world economy is in collapse. Yet what has now come was foreseen many weeks ago when the news came out of China. The pattern showing how this particular virus behaves revealed itself and its progression became predictable to the scientific community. Exponential spread globally was inevitable and now our culture is looking at that straight in the eye. 

Emotionally, reality seems overwhelming as we attempt to grok what is happening. The future used to be an extension of our “plans.” Now it is Godzilla gobbling up our plans right and left. Is there a way out of this movie? 

The illuminated exit signs are within the crisis. Pay attention. First of all, this is not personal. This is everybody. In the early phase, the virus was identified with China and there were reactive anti-Asian episodes. Now COVID-19 is a world event where each country is coming to grips with its own outbreaks. Within America, it will be a regional drama. Community by community, we will be dealing with elemental themes of life and death. As we learn about other people and care how they are coping, we will find our new ground of stability. 

The unknown itself is our ally. We can live more fully in the present because the future is incomprehensible. What we do each day and how we think and what we say and the little choices we make are going to be the deep reality of getting through this. Even if we don’t have the physical world the way we want it, we have the potential for everything else—which is a lot. We also have openings that were closed before, openings that reveal treasures for the new era that is coming. We have opportunities and surprising new freedoms. 

Under certain circumstances, when things change, we have to change with them. That circumstance has arrived.     


Elizabeth Whitney is a longtime local journalist and commentator.