In 2000 I moved as a teenager to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, as missionaries with my family. One night as I was watching the nightly news, I watched the planes hit the Twin Towers in New York. I spent the next four months in lockdown, never leaving my house except to go back and forth to my school a mile away. I could not drive places in my car, go out to eat, go shopping, see friends, or go anywhere. I was secluded and in lockdown except for essential daily activities. The lockdown was protecting my life during a time of political and religious unrest.
Today, with COVID-19 raging against the world, I find myself once again in a lockdown called quarantine. Though I am considered an essential employee and leave the house to work, my situation is very similar to what it was during my first lockdown during 9/11. During both times I was bored, had minimal interaction beyond work/school, and little resources beyond what was in the house. Every time I stepped outside the door it was for a reason; I had a mission. There was also a sense of fear in relation to people at both times. During 9/11 I learned to cope, but it affected my brain in ways I am sure I cannot analyze. The experience became an integral part of who I am, it contributed towards a general distrust of people and society, and instilled a fear within me whenever I was in a vulnerable position. The effects on my brain as a young teenager molded my responses and taught me to operate with a constant awareness of fear while also creating a resiliency that could withstand a dangerous and unstable climate.
Going through the COVID-19 quarantine is a bit different this time. I have more resources, access to people through social media and the internet, hobbies that help keep boredom at bay, and am older. Due to my previous lockdown, the fear mechanism in my brain has been broken for my own sense of safety, as well as for my family. Yet I am still afraid for those around me, those far off, and those I come into contact with. I believe there is a direct correlation to the anxiety and fear I felt during the 9/11 lockdown and the fear I feel in today’s pandemic. It has been linearly connected with concern for others.
As I look at society under COVID-19 restrictions, I see people struggling to come to terms with their new reality of quarantine. I see angst, anger, and distrust. I see families trying to sustain their way of life while living indoors, largely cut off from human contact. These same family ties have also been strengthened as a result. The loss of a direct-contact community has created a loss of support needed for emotional and spiritual health during this time. In response, I also see society surging forward to try and help meet those essential human needs. I know that one day the COVID-19 quarantine will end because, long ago, my four months of isolation in Indonesia also ended. I also know that people across the country will never be the same. Many will look in distrust at people holding out a hand to shake, coughing, and/or the common flu. Workplaces will no longer be seen as a stable source of income. Food on shelves will be bought with more caution or purpose. The definition of a stable home will change with the times. New practices will be put into effect, people may clean their homes and workspaces more often, and a focus on health will emerge. Work environments will shift to allow greater independence from the office. Many people will also develop resulting psychological strengths of resilience, hope, and perseverance. People will be forever affected because of the coronavirus experience.
If I have learned one thing by going through this once before, it is that it will end. For many the effects of the quarantine may affect their lives for longer, many children and teenagers will have strong psychological changes, and society will struggle to find a new post-coronavirus footing. Jobs have been lost, finances impacted, and people’s health has been attacked. Yet everyone is going to rebound together. We will grieve our losses, loved ones, and what has occurred during this time. We will talk it out together, feel it, and move on. COVID-19 will end, though it will be forever etched in history books and our hearts.
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. What area most frightens you during the coronavirus pandemic?
Q2. Imagine a life after COVID-19 quarantine. It will happen.
Q3. How can we help our direct family members come to terms with quarantine?