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Lessons from COVID-19

As the entire globe fights to beat COVID-19, the crisis is not only evoking novel emotions and feelings, but affording us the opportunity to reflect and reexamine our lives, for the better hopefully. Coronavirus is changing us, permanently.

The day schools closed indefinitely to slow the spread of the virus in our community was unprecedented. Being a teacher, I was facing the unfamiliar task of remote instruction and overwhelming emotion. I struggled with reality. I would no longer have face-to-face interaction with my students, being left to teach the English language at a distance. I had to quickly mobilize and gather resources and materials for home instruction, while being aware of the inequalities existing among my students and not fully aware of each student’s situation at home.  My heart was heavy as I headed to my car. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to my kids. I tried to stay positive on my ride home and stopped at the grocery store to pick up some essentials.  To my surprise, the store was unusually busy.  The parking lot was at full capacity. Inside, a frenzied scene as shoppers scrambled to fill their carts with paper goods, cleaning supplies, grocery staples, and essential goods.

I proceeded down each aisle in disbelief. I stared at the empty shelves processing what was happening. I likened the experience to that of a Walking Dead episode. In that moment, I became fully aware of what I had to do. I had to reduce trips like these to the store, while making food and products last longer.  I quickly maneuvered my way through the store filling my shopping cart with items on my weekly grocery list.  My anxiety started to mount as there was no bread, no soap, and no toilet paper.  Panicked buyers had cleared the shelves to stockpile supplies for their own homes.  What were the rest of us going to do?  I was worried. I was dejected. I was angry. At the time, I remember thinking that people were selfish.

That evening at home, I tried making sense of all these emotions that were overwhelming me at once.  I finally realized that they all stemmed from my fear.  I was afraid of contagion, apprehensive about teaching online, living life in shutdown, and the absence of what I consider to be essentials so that my family and I could live safely and comfortably during quarantine.  After a few days of these feelings, I decided it was time to get a handle on this – I had to become proactive and practical.  I thought about that first trip to the grocery store when I realized that things had changed.  I thought about how it was best to avoid going out to the store and how to make what I had last longer, a practice I am comfortable with. 

I planned my daily teaching lessons as usual, out of routine.  I redirected my energy on what was familiar to me and it made me feel better.  I went about my regular indoor routine, I stayed physically active,  and continued to give attention to my sustainable lifestyle amidst this pandemic (that I still could not believe was happening during our lifetime). 

Practicing gratitude is said to have beneficial, lasting effects.

So, I read about it and followed the latest news and updates. I sorted and sifted through information, looking for the facts. I learned about coronaviruses and this novel coronavirus.  I learned that it was my responsibility to stay home and when I had to leave my safe place, I had to stay six feet apart. I learned how to protect myself and my household as best as I could. I learned that soap and water goes a long away, which was a relief to me since I’m not a fan of regularly using chemical cleaning products in my home.  I learned that fewer trips to the store would be enough and effective, reinforcing that if I strategized my shopping experience while spending limited time in the store, I might be able to help flatten the curve.  All good lessons learned.

Now, before I leave for the grocery store, I spend some time planning for my trip. I make more of an effort to purchase essential products that are not meant for single purpose use. I also choose green cleaning products which are effective at killing the virus, and select foods with multipurpose use as the basis of my diet, like vegetables.  I hope to make food last as long as possible, which would mean clean eating if I intend to cook with leftovers.  My overall goal is to reduce anxiety, the frequency of my trips out of the house, and reduce waste and toxins.  I work smarter and harder now, more than ever, to achieve my goals – after all, these are unprecedented times.  Now more than ever I have had to put forth my best practices in sustainability – something that I will always believe in, no matter the circumstances.

This summer, I plan to further reduce my carbon footprint and my grocery bill by replanting my vegetable garden.

This summer, I plan to further reduce my carbon footprint and my grocery bill by replanting my vegetable garden.  Each year I plant it for efficiency, tradition, routine, and pride, but that doesn’t even compare to the fulfillment of sharing my harvest with the people that are important to me.  I look forward to casual visits from family and friends, who stop by on humid evenings when we prod alongside each other in my garden, pushing back and apart green leaves to admire and select the most perfect tomato, eggplant, or pepper.  It belongs to all of us, my labors of love – the defining moment of summer and a collective happiness. I’m hoping moments like those return soon enough.

As schools, stores, restaurants, and businesses remain closed, sporting events cancelled, and celebrations and gatherings with friends and family have become virtual, the spread of these “new norms” has resulted in a shift in social behavior. Social distancing has taken hold.  Whether we are proud of doing our part in helping to flatten the curve, or whether we are taking responsibility for our own health and the health of others, social distancing is also bringing us, ironically, closer together as we become part of the greater good.

Photo by James Lee 

While I try to focus as much as possible on the kernels of good, keeping six feet apart does have plenty of downsides, of course.  At times, I find myself in disbelief at the sight of people who don’t wear face coverings at the store, or who still gather in groups in parks. Social distancing has separated us into different camps, but mainly I see people abiding by the social distancing rules. In order to get through this, we all need to be responsible.

To me, it’s clear that we ought to become proactive in maintaining social sustainability during this pandemic… and not just mindful of our economic sustainability.  Interacting with loved ones is essential to our wellbeing. Thankfully technological advancements has made communicating with people easier than ever, whether we are messaging, texting, Zooming, or simply talking on the phone.

While adapting and finding a balance in these new social norms, we must also have faith in ourselves.  Ultimately, I think we will be more inclined to recognize and appreciate who and what we have in our lives. Practicing gratitude is said to have beneficial, lasting effects.  It sounds simple, yet it might be the most powerful lesson we’ll learn from the coronavirus crisis.

Lead image: Photo by Gabriel Benois

Written by Angela Polimeni

Angela Polimeni

Angela Polimeni is a second language acquisition educator in Buffalo, creator of Eco Tee Co and Co-Founder of Shift/Co ™️.

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