Fear Shaming in a World Unknown

It’s okay to be a contradiction. It doesn’t mean you’re a hypocrite, it only means that you are human. Life is not always only black and white and you have to choose one not both. There are, in fact very few instances in life where you have to only be one thing. It’s okay to be afraid right now, while not ‘living in fear.’ Having fear is not the same as living in it. One is okay, the other is crippling.

In the wave of Corona panic, I have been accused of living in fear. The supposed symptoms:

-I’ve opted for semi-seclusion.

-I’ve had no (unusual or unnecessary or large) social gatherings with friends or family

-I’ve conducted all (but one) meetings online

-I’m checking the temperature for anyone who sets foot in my home

- I own about six masks and wear them whenever I am with a person not immediately related to me. Including in my own home.

Yet, my children are at school. I go grocery shopping. I’ve seen my parents.

Contradiction? I guess. As more of a contradiction, I've had enormous joy spending extra time with my children and husband. We've had fun at home and on my parent's farm. I've had precious time with my parents which is such a gift. I've had a husband who's been at home for longer than he has since we met, as his work requires travel and his travel is now banned. So there has been laughter, happiness, expressions of love. And also fear.

As Christians, we’ve been commanded to live by faith. God has not given us a spirit of fear. Yet David, writing the Psalms, speaks of “…when I am afraid,” (Psalm 56). It’s not a sin to be afraid, though. It's a psycho and physiological response to danger. It is natural.

Right now, I am naturally afraid. I’m afraid of the unknown at the best of times, but when it’s an unknown that can kill (however remote the chance,) or seriously affect people I know and love, of course I am afraid. Realistically, the scientific community states that there are a few reasons for us to fear this ‘thing’: 1) It is highly contagious, 2) The long term effects to the body are still unknown, 3) There is no vaccine or known cure, 4) The fatality of Covid is not yet understood (why some people die and others don’t.) 5) If the virus spreads too quickly, no health system in the world will cope with the infected people and 6) We don’t know enough about re-infection. That’s the science – as icky as it may seem.

So there’s the fear for those I love but also the life I love. I am fearful that businesses I enjoy(ed) won’t be there with this is all over. Already, some have fallen. I am afraid for my husband’s business, for my friends in tourism, for my friends in entertainment. I’m afraid for gorgeous restaurants and small fish and chips shops alike. I’m afraid for hairdressers and beauty technicians. I am really afraid for my friends who are in the medical industry. They're working incredibly hard and in difficult, unprecedented times. Did you know that they are using all staff with any medical training as nurses in some hospitals now? You could go to an ER and get a gynae looking at your lungs, we’re just that short of trained medical staff, or that overwhelmed by intake.

I’m also just sad. I’m sad that people are feeling entitled enough to shame me for my fear, to brazenly continue to break laws, meet in public, shove their masks down around their chins, scoff at government. I’m sad that my children have to be fully kitted in PPE before they can go to school and when they get there, they’re not allowed to touch the swings, their lovely teachers can’t hug them hello.

I’m sad that my brother can’t fly home from Canada, and we’re not sure when he can. I’m sad that in a time where we could all be showing more kindness to those in need, we choose to focus our energy on attacking government and businesses, spreading fear mongering news, we choose to attack our friends and neighbours for their views and their fears.

I’m sad that the poor are so trapped and will be the ultimate sacrificial lambs in this because their options for health care are so limited. As are their options for transport. Of course taxis have to be at 100% capacity, the bosses are on the other side saying, “We need to get our business going again.” “You need to be at work.” “No work, no pay.” South Africa’s working class does not drive their own cars.

They also don’t have a friendly doctor they can phone to ask for advice, like I did last week, over. sore throat. They can’t afford to miss a day of work. And if they get sick, their only option is to go to a clinic or a hospital and be faced by the people who are now carrying a virus, which we don’t fully understand yet.

And again, it may seem like a contradiction that taxis are okay but home visiting is not, but how many of us would really go to a home visit with a friend and keep our masks on the whole time? Socially distance the whole time.? Keep our children from picking their noses or sneezing on toys and then run in with sanitiser and clean each and every thing immediately? Homes are very difficult to control. And somehow, we seem to get more relaxed when we sit together with people for a while. We also want to touch family; an innocent hug hello. And we certainly will stick around for longer than fifteen minutes, which in scientific terms is ‘prolonged exposure.’

It may seem illogical but show me one government that has done a perfect job of managing this thing? I don’t think ours has been perfect, but I don’t know of any success story that was or is doing a flawless job. The decisions to be made here will be impossible and to please everyone is equally impossible.

Should we develop a herd immunity? Yes, probably, and for all we know, we may well be doing so anyway, if the statistics are correct. 1,4 million South Africans predicted to contract the virus by September. 2% mortality rate. That’s if we ‘manage’ the disease effectively. Playing the Russian Roulette game with a herd immunity would be far easier to swallow if we didn’t have a nation with a large portion of our population living with diseases such as malnutrition, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, TB etc. That in striving for herd immunity, we may end up killing massive numbers of immuno-compromised people. They are already on a back foot and have no way to treat a sudden, aggressive flu. Many of them can’t afford orange juice let alone Vitamin C tablets. Talk about self-isolation? How do you do this when you live in a shack with six people in one room? Social distancing? When your neighbour’s wall is your bedroom wall… impossible.

I don’t have the answers. And truly, I don’t believe anyone does. But these are the thoughts that frighten me. And again. I am not living paralysed by fear, I am genuinely, fearful for our nation, for those I love, for those I like, for those we need to survive. But I am living with fear not living IN fear.

Last year, someone in our family was intubated. It was a scary thing to see. They then had to have a tracheostomy so that machines could force air into their lungs. The medical care in a private ward in a private hospital was incredible. And the sisters who nursed this patient were so enduring with the constant flow of phlegm and saliva that would trickle out around the hole from whence the patient breathed, adjusting pipes and wiping away fluids all day long. I remember thinking that they were so caring for one so vulnerable, so diligent in their mission to give the patient dignity in this situation.

Had this situation occurred in our hospitals last week, the task of cleaning a tracheostomy or intubation equipment becomes a life-risking operation. It is no longer only about the nurse keeping the patient clean, the nurse is now putting herself at risk by coming into contact with those fluids. She is putting her children at risk by doing so as she may well carry it home. A simple task, which in the case of Corona seems to be commonplace as intubation and tracheostomies are often necessary, becomes life or death for the carers. Corona has become known as the “Curse of the Medical Profession” because so many medicals are taking ill. And they’re dressed from top to toe in PPE. Plus there is the perfectly rational fear that I don't want to be intubated or receive a trachy; it's plain scary.

I woke up last night and wondered, if that was my job, would I be going to work every day? Would I want to care for others when it means putting my family at risk? And how would I ever choose? I am also waking each morning and saying prayers for those I love who are vulnerable, older, weaker, susceptible or negligent. I do what I can to make sure that my home remains a safe and happy place for our family. I take guidelines seriously in the hope that if we all do, lives may be spared. Not my life, or my child’s life, but the life of the stranger I have had no contact with because I chose today to socially distance myself.

I stand on Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.” I am one of those who knows that God is my refuge and ultimately, heaven is my home. And know that a car accident could take me out today just as easily as Covid could next month. My life is not in my own hands.

I don’t live each day not getting in cars, for fear that I may die. And the same with COVID, I don’t allow it to paralyse me with fear. I liked what someone said recently, that giving in to the fear gives it power. It does. So we can't allow the fear to win. Yet it is there as PART of our lives now and that's okay. People in my circle have contracted the virus and have been absolutely fine, yet some have had a truly horrid time with it, some have come away with permanent damage to their heart, pancreas or lungs and one has died. It is a shark in the water, but it’s not preventing me from swimming.

Our country is a weird hodge-podge of have’s and have nots. It’s so easy for me to sit in my house and be grateful that we have been able to lock down in a place where each person has a bed on which to sleep, a garden in which to play and forget that just down the road, two and half thousand men and women have been sleeping on the streets, virtually on top of one another because it's winter. It’s easy to say that we had lovely family time and enjoyed being together with no stress of time or work, and forget that there were families where home was not safe and being locked down with an angry parent or an abusive spouse was tantamount to prison. It would be so easy to say that we have had to adjust our spending and be cautious for a while because business is not what is should be, and forget that there are people who have literally not earned one cent for almost five months. It would be easy to accuse someone who is worried – not just for the sake of an illness which they may or may not contract – but worried for the world and those who live here – that they are living in fear; and miss the fact that the fear is actually a symptom of mourning. Mourning life as it was. These emotions need to be given space to be explored so that they can move on.

Now is a time for choices. Viruses can't "go away" and this one isn't even nearly gone, so we need to choose to live now and how to live. Our choices are something we can control and we must. Choose compassion. Choose sympathy. Choose not to focus on the news, but to listen to a beautiful song instead. Choose to laugh. Choose to focus on God, flood your heart with His word and truth. Choose a real book over Facebook. Choose not to mistrust every person, but to smile with your eyes behind a mask and mean it. Choose to support local businesses wherever you can and give a helping hand wherever you can too. Remember that each person is carrying a load you can’t see and assume that they don’t need your criticism, assume they could use some gentleness instead. Choose gentleness. Choose not to judge someone’s fear. Choose not to condemn someone’s ignorance. Choose to be kind.

In a time of craziness, uncertainty, unpredictable situations we can choose to 'live' in a different state of action.  In fact, let that be the lasting impact of the Covid Pandemic of 2020: The world – starting with you – chose to be kind.



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