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Editorial: Everything has changed

OPINION

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Yesterday, almost everything changed, and the rest of it changed today. You may not have noticed as you went about your daily routines or diverged from those routines to make sure you’re prepared for self-quarantine, but yesterday was a day we will remember.

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If you’re old enough to remember 9/11, this is that. Just like we talk about how things were before 9/11 (did you know that people used to be able to accompany airline passengers to the gate to see them off?), we will talk about “before coronavirus” or whatever we end up calling this.

If you’re like me, nearly everything that was on your calendar has been canceled. The daily rhythms of your life have been utterly disrupted, and that is the new normal.

We are probably all feeling a little shell-shocked and more than a little anxious and unsettled. As we all settle into various degrees of isolation, the psychological ramifications will only increase.

Looking past the quarantine part of this, I don’t think all the activities that were canceled are coming back. Many things have continued through sheer inertia because canceling them would result in a loud outcry from a few voices. It’s easier to continue than to risk the backlash. But will they start up again? Many won’t. And the isolation many people already experience will only get worse. 

I recently read Alienated America by Tim Carney, in which he discusses how a decline in American institutions (churches, synagogues, bowling leagues, labor unions, etc.) is one cause of the recent increase in what he calls “deaths of despair.” In today’s Washington Examiner, he writes, “But the coronavirus shutdown will hurt America on a far deeper level. It will exacerbate our most acute preexisting condition: the cancer of loneliness and alienation.”

I have a few thoughts for combating this: Touch base with the elderly and vulnerable around you and let them know you are available to help with whatever they need (the Nextdoor app is a great way to connect with your neighbors). Those of us who are relatively young and healthy may need to shop for those who aren’t; in some cases, it may just be a matter of sitting with them to help figure out how to order groceries for delivery.

A simple idea is to play mobile games with friends. In Superbetter: The Power of Living Gamefully, Jane McGonigal argues that playing games (even turn-based games with no actual interaction) with people we know makes us feel more connected to them. So find a mobile game you like (on your phone, for example) and invite friends to play with you.

We’ve created a Facebook group for our readers – let’s use it to exchange information and help each other though this!

On the positive side, I have tremendous faith that we will see some amazing innovations. Creative, energetic people who are forced to stay home will come up with unforeseen solutions to some of the problems of isolation, and the best of those will become part of our new way of life.

Everything has changed. We don’t know how long this will last, how bad it will get, or what is on the other side. The uncertainty is disconcerting at best, and some people around you (sometimes not the ones you’d expect) will really struggle. 

We are all in this together. Be kind to yourself and to the other anxious people around you. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. Make an effort to reach out, both if you need help and to others who may need help. Take care of each other. I will be here, keeping you updated on the news as best I can.