Culture Shock and COVID-19

After the months of watching COVID-19 roll west from China, like waves coming in that seem far away until suddenly they're knocking you over and pulling you under, it felt like life in the US changed overnight.  Many of us have been groping for the words to use to describe what we're living through.  Worldwide trauma, waking up in a dystopian movie, so weird, unfathomable.  We try out different comparisons: is it like the influenza pandemic of 1918?  like 9-11?  like fighting in the US war with Vietnam?  Each person, it seems, has their own story of when the crisis became real to them -- stories that I expect we'll be processing and listening to and talking about for years to come.


More and more, the unfolding of this pandemic reminds me of my experiences living in China, only this time, it's like the entire world just got slammed down into a foreign country -- one that none of us chose to be in, one that we don't have a return ticket from (yet), one where some things are disarmingly similar and others are dizzyingly different.  I haven't lived through a pandemic like this before, but I've done the moving-around-the-world thing a few times, and helped other people who are doing it, so here are a few thoughts that might help in this season.

  • It's okay (normal, even) to be exhausted.  When everything around you is disrupted and your normal routines of how to do things, how your schedule works, how you get food and get places and interact with people changes all at once, it's a lot.  It's okay to need more sleep, or to still be tired even though you're getting more than normal.  You're not broken; your mind is having to learn new rhythms and routines to replace patterns that were so automatic they required no conscious thought from you.  Get some sleep, be kind to yourself.  You don't need to power through everything. 
  • You have legitimate reason to be stressed.  Also, so does everyone else who's doing this transition (which, in this case, means everyone.)  Be kind to yourself.  And everyone else.  No one wanted to be here, no one actually knows how to do this well, no one has the amount of agency they're used to having.  It's scary and hard.  Also, think about what being kind to your future self looks like -- sometimes it means eating pasta and watching a movie; sometimes it means being diligent about getting exercise and eating a salad.
  • "Normal" is going to look different.  Getting everything back to the way it was is impossible, futile, and not even necessarily desirable.  Clearly, "normal" is different for the next few weeks or months, as much of the economy is shut down and much of the country is practicing being good neighbors by staying at home.  But even after that's done -- if we develop a vaccination for this and it becomes a fairly routine seasonal annoyance for most people, like the flu -- "normal" isn't going to be the same.  People change, the way life works changes, you change.  That's okay.
  • You'll have all the emotions.  And then none.  And then opposite ones.  Ride the waves: process some (write, talk to a friend, go on a walk) and keep living; the story goes on.
  • It's okay to grieve.  We're missing familiarity, missing friends and family, missing the things that we were able to take for granted a couple weeks ago.  The losses are real.
  • It's okay to enjoy where you are.  For a lot of people, life has slowed down, and maybe you're finding more time to do yoga or write letters or talk on the phone with friends.  My first team from China and I did a group video chat the other night -- something that we've never done before in the almost seven years since we lived and worked together.  You know what?  It was really good.  It's okay to rejoice in the explosion of art and creativity and ways to build community that have been flourishing online.
  • It's okay to try a lot of different things and realize that some work and some don't.  There has been a proliferation of resources that my friends have been sharing.  Humans are different and cope and adjust differently -- experiment, share what's helpful and hopeful to you, and be gracious if your friends aren't as crazy about it.  Keep sharing and listening to what they're doing.  
  • It's okay to feel like this isn't normal.  It's not.  God is still good and kind, and there is still a lot of good in life, but none of us wanted this.  It's okay that it's hard.
  • You're loved.  Although humans are built for connection and social distancing is really, really hard on most of us, find ways to remind yourself in the midst of loneliness that you are loved by other people and always, forever by our Father.


What's helping you process and go on living as we are in this new season?  What are you grieving?  What are you finding joy in? 

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