One of the most common references during the pandemic has been that long-anticipated "ray of light at the end of the tunnel.” It is now fair to say it does exist, for many, but certainly not all of us. For those of us who have been vaccinated and live in communities observing safe masking and distancing, we are beginning to readjust our sight and accustoming ourselves to figuring out what has changed from when we encountered the long Covid-19 darkness when we entered the tunnel.
Although it was an unexpected and surprisingly long tunnel passage, I had pretty much adjusted to my limitation to plan for and see only that immediately before me, with only limited choices from day to day, but I was privileged to nevertheless be able to keep moving, quite confident there was and end to it all if I stayed in my “lane” and obeyed the rules. So here I am - we are - with our vision of transitional light, still somewhat compromised and shaky from our reentry from the lockdown as we try to make sense of the ordeal of the Covid-19 tunnel.
Clearly I am pleased to be out from under the foul atmosphere and forbidding clouds we left on the other side of the tunnel. The environment on the exit side - politically, culturally and personally (and I refer here primarily to the U.S.), has begun to clear (minus some sadly lingering darkness of fear and denial), but the sun does shine more steadily and brightly over all with even the slightest hint of a rainbow. We have learned so much about communication technology, and, more importantly, many of us have learned a great deal about ourselves and what we truly want to value and hold precious in life. We have learned to be more patient, maybe even more kind. We have been reminded about humility and the limits of our ability to control so much that impacts us. On the whole we can be so very grateful for the post-tunnel vision we are now adapting.
So I am, of course, pleased to be recovering slowly to the familiar light I left when I entered the tunnel. But the landscape on our new side has changed, and so have we. The adapting evokes a kind of awkward, hesitant sensation, like undergoing a kind of metamorphosis. When I ask someone these days how they are doing, they most often reply, “Oh, Okay,” as if to say they are also are still in some transition into what it means to be conventional again: to mask or not to mask; to meet in person or not; to shop in a crowded store; whether to make that longed-for trip to see the grandkids and parents again.
And then I need to think of those in India and throughout the world for whom the pandemic tunnel has only worsened into mass migrations, economic disasters and disease. I am reminded that the meaning of PANdemic means that until all of us on the planet learn to cooperate and support one another with nonviolent kindness, we will all be doomed. Although much has changed since the tunnel began and is now ending, we live in the same world of uncertainty, life-threatening challenges, and a whole mountain of injustices that we can pass under and through temporarily but the mountain still remains. And my experiences with tunnels is that they usually come in a series, and we likely have a good many more to transverse.
Perhaps the most important question we are all asking post pandemic, consciously or not, is how can we personally, culturally, and politically dare to commit to the changes that the pandemic has prophetically called us to make. I personally welcome the sweeping and often radical proposals coming from the Biden administration, but at a gut level I still haven’t taken in what sacrifices and hardships these proposals may ask of me and those of us who benefit from our privileged access. It is enough now to believe we can address the climate crisis and wealth disparities, but I also expect that if taken seriously, the significant transformations and revolutions that will follow will mean a loss of convenience and privilege for people like myself. Can those of us so privileged accept steep tax hikes, diminished travel options, and other consequential adaptations to our comfortable lifestyles? And what does it all mean for future generations?
So the transition to the “light at the end of the tunnel” is a welcome relief from the pandemic of uncertainty and constriction, at least for now. By all means we need to celebrate the vaccinations and increased freedoms we are experiencing. But may we also proceed with the knowledge and humility that we still live in a time of considerable and lingering darkness as we attempt to transition to a sustainable and just world.