The pandemic caught me by surprise. Perhaps each of us can say this, but then we all think our situation is unique. I do know one thing; I didn’t want to live through a pandemic. It was never on my bucket list and I had never given it a second thought. But here it is and my goal is to not only survive but to also accomplish some meaningful activities during this time, however long it lasts.
On January 25th, 2020 I boarded a train for Los Angeles with forty of my fellow Rotarians. Our destination was Union Station in the heart of downtown. As the train chugged into the station and screeched to a stop, we disembarked en masse and greeted those who had been riding in a different train car from us. As we began our short journey, walking the several blocks over to Chinatown for our Lunar New Year celebration the conversation was around the people who chose not to join us that day.
There were four in all and the reason they gave was that they did not want to spend time with Chinese people because of the new virus that was spreading into Europe and the United States from Wuhan, China. I didn’t comment at the time. We all thought Chinatown was bustling with activity on that sunny day, but later we learned that less than a quarter of the number who typically attend this annual celebration were there. On the way back to Union Station a friend and I cut through Olvera Street, mixing and mingling and rubbing shoulders with almost a hundred people before we crossed the street and caught the train back to our city an hour later.
I didn’t believe that people from China would knowingly go out among the crowds if they had any idea they might be sick or could infect others. I’ve been to China twice and have close friends living in Guangzhou. As for my Chinese American friends and colleagues I would not be able to count them all.
Before the Pandemic There Was Cancer
I didn’t want to go through cancer, but one day it arrived and I had no choice. After the biopsy the nurse who had assisted in the procedure saw me in the parking lot. “We had to get that dead, black tissue away from your body,” she said as I nodded mindlessly. I didn’t know cancerous tissue was coarse and black and smelled like burnt rubber. The nurse was still talking to me as I reached the row where I was parked and veered off in that direction. I longed to go back in time, to when I could walk along the boardwalk at the beach to people watch and dig my toes into the sand.
The doctors and nurses took me step by step through each day and every process, only asking me to agree to one more disfiguring surgery, one more painful treatment, one more medication with a name I couldn’t pronounce and didn’t choose to remember. I didn’t want to lose my breast and when they cut it away they took much of the chest muscles on my right side along with it.
I stood naked in front of the full length mirror on my bedroom closet door and an emaciated woman, hollow on one side, with scars from just under the right arm to the left breast and a plastic drain dangling from between the ribs looked back with an empty stare.
I didn’t intend to lose my hair, or throw up multiple times during the day or forget what day it was. But I did, for several months before regaining my health. There was a month of days where my only goal was to pick up my newspaper from the end of the driveway. That was the easy part; getting out of bed and getting dressed and going outside and making it down two stairs and on to the asphalt and down to the end of the driveway was what took every ounce of courage I could muster.
I didn’t like it when people felt sorry for me, or excluded me from social events, or didn’t call or stop by because they didn’t know what to say to me. But I wanted to live so I endured the humiliating procedures that altered my body. Living was so much more important to me than the alternative.
Often the authors and entrepreneurs who come to me to help them write a book and create products and courses they can sell online have a long list of what they will do and what they do not want to do. I tell them that if their list of what they don’t want to do is longer than what they are willing to do their journey will be more of a struggle than one filled with joy. I say this with the memories of days filled with challenges and setbacks and obstacles most people cannot imagine.
But it’s different for me right now, isn’t it? No, it’s the same. I didn’t want to live through a pandemic and all that goes with that, but I so want to survive and thrive. Instead of dwelling on all of the things I don’t want right now, I’m focusing on the ones that make my life worth living. Because right now I’m willing to go through everything I don’t like or don’t want to do or don’t know how to do because of one reason…
I want to live.
To Live Through the Pandemic is Just the Beginning…
I intend to get the best of this novel coronavirus situation and to live to tell the stories. That’s right, stories. Because we all have stories to tell from before the virus was planted in our realm of consciousness, our country, our state, our community, our neighborhood, our street, our home. And those stories must be handed down to those who are too young to understand or who have not yet been born.
How about you? Are you living through the pandemic or merely surviving? Do you have stories to tell? Please share them. The world is waiting to hear from you because no one can tell your stories except for you. Stories bring our experiences to life. And, after all it is life that we are fighting for right now.