Memoir: My perspective, thoughts and feelings during this past year since getting sick with COVID-19

Sunday, March 14, is the first anniversary of when I got sick with COVID-19. It has been a little more than a year that all of humanity has faced the unprecedented challenges of this pandemic. I considered writing about what I believe many people have been going through and what feelings they have been having, based on my conversations with so many during this struggle, but I decided I would write about what I have experienced, what I have been feeling, my journey. Hopefully, some of what I am sharing will resonate with others, and that will make this blog worth it all for me. 

Beginning in January and increasing in February the news media was flooded with coverage of the virus infecting people in China, then Italy, and other nations. It was clear early on that this would become global. World leaders and health officials and all levels of government struggled with what our response should be. “Social distancing,” a concept that had been used throughout the centuries in various studies, often conducted by sociologists studying interactions between classes of civilization, became common vocabulary to us all.  In 2020 it meant, stay away from each other. The idea of standing a few feet apart from each other and not shaking hands or hugging took some time to embrace, with frequent clumsy exchanges, one person apologizing to the other for not shaking their hand. On Friday, March 13, I was standing in front of one of the Manhattan buildings I work at chatting with a few colleagues. I shook a few hands and then as I approached one of them, he laughed, backed up, and said to me, “You’re probably a host!” We all chuckled a bit. He was one of the first people I called the next day when I got sick. I learned very quickly how serious and how dangerous this was.

Saturday morning, I woke up and did what I did every weekend and went to a hot yoga class. I walked back home on the boardwalk in a state of Zen. I showered and went to get some things at Costco with Marcella. I was completely fine, healthy one moment and then the next minute I had a fever. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I had the virus. And I did. The lockdown for me, my company, and everyone else in my life I had contact with began that day. Ever an optimist, I shook my head the weeks before, when people flooded the stores and bought all of the food and supplies they could get their hands on. But when I got sick, I was dependent on friends, who I will never forget, who brought food to me when I needed it. The first thing one friend brought me was a cough suppressant that my doctor prescribed. I took those pills daily and they may have kept me out of the hospital. 

The first few days I had a fever and some wheezing and fatigue. I was cautiously relieved, thinking that I had a mild case. But then about five days into it the coughing got pretty bad. I would shorten my phone calls with loved ones and friends because I did not want them to be afraid for me, hearing how much I was coughing. It was also difficult to talk too Long. My greatest concern was wondering if I would know if I needed to go to a hospital, before getting to a point where I could not get myself there or call anyone to take me. I shared that with no one and I realize now that was a mistake. Thankfully it did not happen. It was an experience that I never want to have again, but I was certainly more fortunate than so many people who suffered for a great length of time in the hospital, and of course the many who died.

When I look back on my life there are many memories, some that I clearly remember, and others vaguely. But those two weeks when I was sick with the virus, stand out like no other time in my life. There were so many things that changed, so much that was different. There was the isolation, waking up each day and dealing with different presentations of symptoms, being dependent on others to bring food to me, putting on a mask and gloves and walking down the stairs of my building, standing in front and grabbing a bag of food that had been left for me, while thanking the one who brought it to me, standing 30 feet away.

The routines of my life all changed, drastically. I would look at the clock and walk back-and-forth in my apartment for 30 minutes.  I realize now that I did that to better cope with the boredom and the loneliness. When I looked out onto the boardwalk and saw people walking by, I thought to myself, they are so lucky, they are not sick. It was not a feeling of envy, rather a feeling of genuine happiness that they were able to walk outside on the boardwalk and they were healthy. In a way, the world became divided into two groups of people for me – those who were sick and those who were not.  I thought of people who are chronically ill, children who are born with physical challenges, and I felt empathy for them, at a level that I have not felt before in my life.  I have not lost that empathy, and I know I never will.

14 days later, Saturday morning, March 28, I woke up and I thought I was symptom-free. I was hopeful but cautious. A couple of hours into the morning I looked out my window and saw a pod of dolphins swimming only about 30 feet off the shore. I posted a video and wrote: “Happening now! pod of dolphins right off the beach. First sighting this year! A sign of transitioning from the darkness to light? I believe so! Have a wonderful day everyone, and stay healthy, in body and spirit.” The concept of transitioning from darkness to light was intended for everyone else as a message of hope, but a personal message for myself that the virus was hopefully behind me. And for the most part, it was, but the pain of the pandemic, the fear, and the uncertainty was just beginning. 

After 9/11 the way I coped with the pain was activism, service to others. At the time I was an NYPD Borough Commander, Chief of Brooklyn South. During those first couple of days, so many people offered me condolences for the death of my nephew Michael Roberts, an FDNY Firefighter. Each time someone said that to me I would then ask if they lost anyone. That triggered me to identify about 100 police officers in Brooklyn South who lost family members. I called each of them. I cherished those connections with them, some that I still have today. We then identified about 150 first responders, cops who were there when the towers fell. My partner and friend, Chief Mike Collins and I had them come into my office in groups, and we just listened to them. Their stories were riveting and I will never forget them. We identified about 300 families who lived in Brooklyn South who lost family members. We connected with each of them and we held several events, including a holiday party that December and the following Easter. I still have special friendships with some of them. The day after Hurricane Sandy, I thought of that 9/11 response and It motivated me to focus on how we could help as many people who were affected as we could. With the subway system closed, the primary mission of the Transit Bureau became finding ways to help families who had no electricity, no heat, and whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed. Would we be helping others? I hoped so, but I would be helping myself just as much, if not more.

The day after Hurricane Sandy, I thought of that 9/11 response and It motivated me to focus on how we could help as many people who were affected as we could.  We came up with some ways to support police officers throughout the city whose homes were underwater in Staten Island, Long Island, Gerritsen Beach, and the Rockaways. With the subway system closed, the primary mission of the Transit Bureau became finding ways to help families who had no electricity, no heat, and whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed. So it occurred to me about a day or two after I got the virus that a 9/11 response is what was needed, and it was what I needed. I put a calendar entry in my phone so that I would see it every day and think about what I could do. Would I be helping others? I hoped so, but I would be helping myself just as much, if not more. And so it is true about pain, activism and service help us through it.

About a day or two after I got the virus, I thought that a post 9/11 kind of response is what was needed, and it was what I needed. The first step was to put a list of people who I knew were struggling in my calendar.  I moved that entry every day, regularly adding names of friends, people I was connected with on social media, and people in my company who HR connected me with who were also struggling. I titled the entry, “People to call.” In only a couple of weeks, there were 57 names in that entry.  The frequency of when I contacted them depended on how severely I thought they were hurting.  I still see that entry and move it every couple of weeks and I will never delete it. It will remain an important memory for me.  Already active on social media, I shifted to only posting supportive messages, including videos I would occasionally make, so I could better articulate a message. When I put up scenic photos before the pandemic, I would just put the photo up on its own. But during this shared trauma I thought it was important to add a message to every post. One consistent message I put out was the value of getting out of the house, safely, even if only for an hour, even if it was raining. I emphasized that self-care needs to be strategic.

Those posts, my overall profile on social media, and the fact that it was well known that I am a professional life coach, resulted in more people private messaging me, more contacts. I was deeply appreciative of the trust people put in me. I was honored. It gave me purpose. And remember, activism and service help us through trauma. And so, the lack of face-to-face connection to others was painful to me, as it was for all of us, but at least I had these connections with so many through social media and messaging. But there were times when that had a cost. 

Several weeks into this pandemic I started to notice that I was taking on the pain of others and I wondered whether there was too much volume. That came to a head one morning. I stopped everything and started to journal. I titled it, “Compassion Fatigue.” I made the entry at 11:00 a.m. and I just rattled off what I was dealing with just in the few hours since I woke that morning. Here is some of what I wrote: “A request from one of the regions in my company to do a video message of support, actually titling the email, ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ – pressure!, a suggestion from a friend to do Facebook live posts – flattered, but even more engagement, managing the substantive comments and responses to the things I was putting up on social media, people diagnosed with the virus and contacting me because they want to hear of my experience with it, people who are so afraid of the virus but not diagnosed, people checking on me who I know also want to hear encouraging words from me, hearing of people who I know dying, loved ones of people I know dying.” The volume was more than I have experienced in my life. Here is how I ended the journal, “I’m finding myself struggling because there are so many emails and phone calls that I have to make and I’m finding it difficult to focus. I feel very distracted. My hands are shaking and I can’t concentrate. I can feel my heart is racing, I’m breathing faster. I think I need help.”

And I got help. I figured out that something that I have always promoted to so many others, balance and self-care, I was denying myself. I found that balance and I kept that purpose that was and always will be near and dear to me. I shared this with very few people because I did not want anyone to ever hesitate to reach out to me if they needed help. Sharing this now, I want to emphasize to anyone reading this, that if you need me, I am available.

In those couple of months, I thought that the only real pain I was feeling were bouts of compassion fatigue. Because I was so engaged on social media, I thought the isolation was not affecting me. Of course, I was wrong. We are born to connect with others. It is our first impulse in life and it never leaves us. I remember going into a supermarket for the first time since I got sick, maybe four weeks later, and I was so excited. I would jokingly tell friends that I felt like I was in Disneyland. Only able to see people’s eyes, I felt so good initiating conversations with strangers. A few days later I was standing on the boardwalk and a neighbor, a great guy who I probably never spoke with for more than a couple of minutes, was walking with his family. We said hello and he stopped. We spoke for about 20 minutes and it was the highlight of my day.  I regretted when he left and rejoined his family, who had walked on ahead of him. I joined a company meeting from my car a couple of days later. When it was my turn to speak, I told everyone that I was in my car because I was driving an Uber, because it would help me deal with the isolation from people. Everyone laughed, so did I. That afternoon I realized that the joke reflected what I was feeling. I then put out a video on social media reminding us all that it’s important to give ourselves permission to feel and recognize when we are in pain.

Creativity sometimes comes when people are struggling. I occasionally enjoy writing poems and I average about one per year, but during this lockdown, I wrote four within a few months. I wrote the first one on the beach. I was standing at the water’s edge and I shouted, chanted out to the ocean a line from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, “There are no graves here. Whenever you pass by the fields where you have laid your ancestors look merrily upon them, and you shall see yourself and your children dancing hand-in-hand.” I chanted that over and over again. Then I turned, and facing the buildings, the land, I continued chanting. Then it occurred to me that alone on that beach I was communicating with all humanity, present, past, and future. The poem, “Our Moment,” came to me and I started writing it right there on the beach using talk to text. I came upstairs and finalized it. It wasn’t until maybe a day later that I realized that the inspiration for that poem came from the pain of my separation from people. 

Several weeks after my symptoms ended, I became more strategic about self-care, in particular getting out of the house, even if for only an hour, safely. Even on rainy days I would get in my car and drive up and down the Rockaway Peninsula. I found such beautiful places only a couple of miles away from my home, along the peninsula and in Jamaica Bay. I was capturing some really pretty photos and I enjoyed sharing them with everyone. I always included a message promoting strategic self-care and hope.  One late afternoon I was in Floyd Bennett Field capturing some beautiful photos. I felt like I was hundreds of miles away in a peaceful place far from the city. I was in such a state of bliss and happiness seeing what I was seeing and capturing the moments, knowing that I could share them with many. And then I hit my second emotional wall.  I got a text that NYPD Chief Bill Morris, a colleague and a friend for many years, had died after being on a ventilator for weeks with the virus. 

Bill had been thinking about retiring soon. He gave close to 40 years to us. As I sat there, I thought of how his family surely worried about him when he was coming up the ranks getting hurt, or even worse. But having been a Chief for maybe the last 15 years, those worries probably subsided. I thought about them looking forward to the day that he retired, when he would be all theirs.   

Before I got that news, my consciousness was being massaged by the trees, the beautiful clouds, the orchestra of Red-Breasted Robins and other birds singing, as if just for me. I was feeling so good, knowing I would be able to share the photos with so many, share those moments of tranquility, comfort and yes, Joy. But then with the news that Bill died, the isolation, fear and uncertainty that I had been feeling those last weeks combined with the sadness of processing that Bill had died overwhelmed me.  An analogy came to me. Picture a table. Put a cinderblock brick on the table. Then put another. Then put another, another, and another. Keep loading those bricks onto the table. Those bricks are; sorrow, fear, uncertainty, the pain of the loss of life. They just keep piling up. And then at some point, when you put enough bricks on that table, or rather, too many bricks, the table collapses.

That day, in that place of beauty and bliss, my table broke – too many bricks.

And then there were the unexpected crashes when everything seemed fine. Sitting on my couch one night I texted a friend who had been dealing with prolonged health challenges. I asked her how she was doing. Her response was, “I’m still here.” Those three words amplified the subtle pain I had been feeling for months. But the words that followed really shook me. She added, “Pray for my nephew Chase. He’s 12 years old and he has the virus and he has pneumonia and he’s in Columbia Hospital.” My table shattered that night. But I would build it up again. 

When the People of our Nation Turned on Each other

In Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed while being taken into police custody. The next day protests began in Minneapolis and spread throughout the country, in hundreds of cities. On May 28, people rioted in Minneapolis. They started attacking a police precinct and on the order of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, all of the police officers abandoned their precinct. He later said, “It’s just bricks and mortar.” Oh no Jacob, it was much more than that. It was the line between chaos and citizens’ safety. And that line was gone. An unprecedented event, law enforcement retreating to an angry mob, set the tone for riots, violence, looting, and destruction of property in many cities throughout America. 

After the world watched part of an American city being destroyed, the next day some mayors and governors across the country, while our country was in a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, encouraged demonstrators to come out. And the mixed messaging could not have been any clearer. People who saw what happened in Minneapolis the night before and who would loot and riot did exactly that in cities across America. 

Few elected officials spoke out against it, while many fanned the flames with anti-police rhetoric, and in some cases, legislation that made police officers more vulnerable and made it more difficult for them to protect the people they serve. The destruction in our country was silenced and labeled in mainstream media every day as “mostly peaceful protests.” And I wondered, is mostly peaceful the same as partially violent? 

The discord in our country was everywhere I looked. It seemed to be the only thing you could find on social media and in the news media. I am 64 years old and this was the most tumultuous time of my life. It was talked about constantly and everywhere. Family members and lifelong friends were arguing with each other, and many cut themselves off from each other because the differing opinions were so strong and the emotions were so high. The first few months of this pandemic were difficult, and the isolation was painful, but at least there was the connection to each other, with the belief that we were all in this together. But for so many Americans that shared experience was gone, replaced by anger, almost rage.  The violence resulted in more than 20 deaths. In the year of 2020, we experienced the largest one-year increase in murders in the history of our country. Murders, lives lost, jumped 21% in just 12 months. Losses are estimated in the billions, making it the most expensive in our recorded history, with the scars of pain that will never leave us. 

The continued violence and destruction in our cities was alarming. Places of business and shopping malls were putting boards up on their windows. I usually went to bed by 11:30 p.m. but on those nights I was up until the early morning hours, horrified by what I was watching and texting with friends who were either on the job or retired. We couldn’t believe what was happening. During my 38 years in the NYPD I had been in some very dangerous situations. I have taken guns from people, who if they had the chance would have used them on me. But I was never afraid. I somehow protected myself from that feeling. But for the first time in my life, in those weeks in June and July, there were moments when I was afraid.  I actually thought about what I would do to protect myself if a mob got into my building in Rockaway and tried to get into my apartment. I played it out in my mind, wondering if I should try to escape through the stairway, or lock and barricade my door. Would there be enough of them to break it down and then what would I do? I envisioned being attacked on the street, for no reason, or in the secluded places that I went to take photos. I shared that with no one at the time because I did not want to frighten them as well. I never had those thoughts in my life and I hope I never have them again.

What shocked me and was most difficult for me was how so many people, so much of the media and too many elected officials appeared to be blaming police officers all over the country for one incident. Many of the demonstrations turned violent and videos emerged of police officers dealing with those challenges. When there is an allegation of excessive force used due process is to conduct an investigation, then if the facts warrant, either bring administrative or criminal charges, and then determine guilt or innocence.  But in 2020 far too many elected officials reversed those steps. They went on Twitter an hour after an incident and declared the officer guilty. In too many instances officers were arrested within days, without a proper investigation.

Sometimes when you see something you can never unsee it. I saw things that I will never unsee. On the first night of the riots in NYC, in the Bronx, a black SUV driving down the street accelerated when the driver saw a uniformed NYPD officer crossing, intentionally striking him. The officer was thrown into the air and landed on the street. Crowds surrounded police cars in cities all over the country and shattered their windows and attacked the officers. Anti-police graffiti was everywhere.

As long as I can remember whenever a police officer was shot, or God forbid killed in the line of duty, every elected official would say, “An attack on a police officer is an attack on society. It is an attack on all of us.” But sadly, very few said that in 2020, and those who may have were not heard. Those words were not a cliché; they were absolutely true and they always will be. When people in authority, as well as the media, withhold support from and vilify police officers it sends a clear message to those who would commit a crime that it’s acceptable, even condoned. And it was effectively condoned because of the silence and the continued rhetoric. 

Who suffered the most, and are still suffering? The people in the poorest communities. Criminals felt safe to carry their weapons. And they did. Shootings in New York City doubled within less than a week. Murders increased by more than a third. On the evening of July 12, 2020, there were outdoor gatherings on that summer night throughout the city.  In Brooklyn, a one-year-old baby, Davell Gardner, was shot and killed while sitting in his stroller. New Yorkers saw this on the news and read it in the papers. They felt really sad and they said prayers. The days went by and the pages of those newspapers turned, but not for Davell, and his family and all who loved him. And not for the police officers who were there that night. Along with his family, they will carry Davell with them for the rest of their lives. 

In my leadership training, I speak of how being a leader is parental. Watching young men and women vilified because of the uniforms they wear, I felt like I was watching sons and daughters being attacked. I was sad, afraid for them, and angry. On the job working, off duty, and since retired, I would always get out of my car and say hello to cops, thank them and often take a photo with them and post it on social media. But during those days I worked harder at it searching for opportunities to get out of my car and try my best to offer a few words of comfort and support. The first exchange I had was when I was driving on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. I saw three police officers in front of a restaurant getting takeout food. I turned around and parked and got out and approached them. Something I never experienced before happened; I felt emotional and I had to hold back tears. Looking at the faces of these three young men and knowing how they were being abandoned by so many was very painful. 

For several weeks the narrative that this country is deeply and systematically racist and that policing in America is where it is most prevalent, was so overpowering, no one spoke up against it.  But in early July a group of people in Rockaway raised money and paid for a plane to fly up and down the peninsula with a banner that said, “Rockaway and Breezy PT support NYPD.” On July 5, I saw it from my window and I ran down to the beach and took a video. I put it up on all of my social media platforms. I wrote, “Finally, little by little, people are finding the courage to speak over the noise of the intimidating groupthink.” Again, my eyes filled with tears. https://twitter.com/joefox/status/1279870014196273153?s=21

In the 40 days between May 25, and that day, July 5, I did not hear any elected official or any news reporter, nor did I read in any written media that the overwhelming majority of the 700,000 police officers in America care deeply about humanity and protecting others, no matter what their ethnicity or socioeconomic status. I thought of the term “silent majority” and I felt that I and people who shared those beliefs were being “silenced.” That is why I cried tears of hope when I saw that plane fly along the beach with that banner of support.

I put that 36 second video up on all of my social media platforms. It was shared by a number of media outlets and had over 75,000 combined views. For a short video that really did not have the best clarity to get such responses assured me that police officers were truly not abandoned by everyone, and that they still had the overwhelming respect and support of the people they serve. Where else can you find that support? You will find that in every neighborhood, every precinct in our city. Ask the people of those precincts who need them the most. They will tell you how much they appreciate them.

Seven days later on Sunday, July 12, there were support for the police rallies scheduled in several places in our city. I joined the one in Rockaway, on the boardwalk. Thousands of people filled the boardwalk and marched to the local 100 Precinct to voice their support. I never thought I would ever attend any type of political rally in my life but this was where I needed to be that day.

That night at about 11 PM someone texted me a link. I opened it and it took me to a Facebook site, “Thank You NYPD.” The post was a 53-second video of Tatyana Timoshenko arguing with a counter-protester at the pro-police rally in Bay Ridge that day. Tatyana’s son Russel was an NYPD officer who was shot in the line of duty on July 9, 2007. The man arguing with Tatyana, who was about 8 inches taller than her, was talking over her, shouting, and waving his arms. However, as the 53-second exchange continued his demeanor changed and he lowered his voice, occasionally nodding his head in respect to her. I commented on the post that I am friends with Tatyana, I am texting her now and she would love to see the video. A few minutes later I was on the phone with Anthony Defaus. His wife Anna, a NYC school teacher, started the page in the summer of 2014 when for months anti-police demonstrations raged in cities across America. In June 2020, Anna and Anthony started a “Go Fund Me” page on the site called “Refuel the NYPD.” They raised enough money to bring food to precincts throughout the city, an important gesture of gratitude and support. I learned that night that Anna filmed the exchange and while the man was yelling at Tatyana, Anthony shouted over to him that she had lost her only son in the line of duty. That is why his demeanor changed. That gave me hope. This is what I wrote on the post, “Watch this young man’s demeanor change to a look of caring and genuine empathy. Watching this I wonder, when can we get back to a time when we appreciate each other’s humanity, as what happened in these moments between Tatyana and this young man? I know we will. We must.”

I let Anthony and Anna know that night that two days later, on July 14, Tatyana and Leonid and their family would be at the 71 Precinct to remember Russell, the anniversary of the day he died after being shot. They made that the fifteenth visit and along with support and love, they brought food for the entire command. That video that Anna took, the conversation we had that night, and the visit to the 71 Precinct would be the catalyst of something special. 

I decided to join Anna and Anthony visiting precincts throughout the city. I suggested we invite the families of our hero police officers who died in the line of duty. Every week, sometimes twice a week, we would visit an NYPD command with our Goldstar families with food for everyone. Because commanding officers put effort into getting as many members there for the visit, sometimes we would address 100 police officers.  The C.O. would open the program and introduce me. I would do a brief introduction of each of the family members there, including how their loved one died, and then I would speak for about 10 minutes. Each of our family members would then address the officers. I often referred to our families as the “royalty in policing,” and they are. They are almost godlike to the rank-and-file. The respect and reverence that they hold them in is profound. These young men and women were under persistent attack from so many, and these special people showed up in their precinct to lift them up. When they spoke you could have heard a pin drop. They traveled throughout the city and put their heart and soul into these visits, telling the cops that they appreciate when so many were there for them in their darkest hour, and they are now here for them.  My pain level dropped considerably. Why? Back to that formula, when in pain, activism, activism.

The rallies in support of police continued throughout the city and the country. I was honored to be invited to speak at a number of them. But something in me changed. I have made many speeches in my life and done many eulogies. My delivery was always calm. I would speak softly, slowly. In these speeches I was loud, animated, pacing back-and-forth, and I may have sounded angry, and I was, but I was very passionate. That was my truth and that was what I thought was needed. But I always ended with messages of hope. How could I not? How could we have gotten through those days without hope?

I would share the following stock market analogy: “The stock market has bad days, but it comes back up. It has bad months and it comes back up and it has bad years but it rebounds. Like the stock market recovers, you will get through this and we will all get back to where we need to be. However, today we are living through a kind of great depression and it will take some time, probably years. People can take their support away from police officers, they can take away their gratitude, they can attack you and they can vilify you. But no one can take why you do what you do away from you. You own that and no one can take it away. The only way you lose that is if you give it away. And the way you give it away is by forgetting it and losing sight of it. If you need help realigning yourself with why you do what you do, go to your locker and find the letter that someone wrote to you thanking you for your presence in their home when their 95-year-old grandmother passed away, telling you that you’ve made an impact that they will never forget. Think about the last important arrest you made where you brought justice to the victim. Think of the 19-year-old kid who had been involved in his first accident and was so upset, but you made him feel calm.” And then, pointing to the families of our heroes who gave their lives, I said, “And if that doesn’t work, think of our heroes, those who died in the line of duty wearing the uniforms that we wear. We wear those uniforms to honor them.”

I would acknowledge that despite so many people turning their backs on them, they are still there every day for the people in their precinct who need them most. They will never walk away from that. And if they want to know what the majority of people think of them, just look at those people in the precinct who express gratitude every day.  Whenever I would say that heads would nod in the audience. That will never be reported in the media but that is the reality throughout the communities of this country.

 

Hope 

In that post with the video of the pod of dolphins back in March, 2020, I spoke of coming out of the darkness. I believed it. Like all of us, I expected it, and I expected it soon. When the weather got warmer the spread of the virus would lessen. By the fall it would be gone. We would soon develop “herd immunity.” We started to accept that for a short time, there would be this concept, a “new normal.” My expectation of that new normal was one with a few small changes in our lifestyle but nothing too significant, and it would happen relatively soon. The hardships caused by businesses being shut down and restaurants closed would be over soon. The horror of our loved ones, especially our elderly, being in hospitals alone in their final hours without their families next to them holding their hands would end soon.

Well, it didn’t end in the summer. It didn’t end in the Fall. After the new year it certainly will, we thought. It has not. And we’re hearing people projecting that maybe, in 2022 most of the restrictions will end. When trust is broken it’s hard to trust again. And sometimes, the impact of this pandemic is worse now, having experienced it for a year, than it was when this was new. Intellectually, we know we will get there, but that relief has been denied so often, that emotionally we don’t trust it. But we must. It’s important to access that intellectual thought, and remember that simple but powerful phrase, “this too shall pass.” And it will.

During the years after 9/11 increases in alcoholism, substance abuse, divorce, and other challenges were attributed to the attack and the trauma that so many suffered. I rejected that and I somewhat resented it. I think I felt that way because I thought it was somehow disrespectful to the enormity of the event, and the remarkable recovery that happened during the years after. To attribute regular human problems to it diminished that. As I matured, I realized I was wrong and that was shortsighted of me. Of course, a devastating blow like that can cause those challenges and many others. In fact, I realize now that I certainly experienced some of them. Our consciousness protects us when we are going through really tough times, and dulls pain and fear. It is after we have come through it and look back years later that we realize how bad it was. Writing this blog, I realize that is certainly true for me. When I had the virus, I focused much of my attention on putting out messages of hope and I did not allow myself to fully feel the fear of having to go to a hospital, or worse. I know now how painful the separation from people was for me, more than I realized then.  Looking back, I realize that the anger I felt during the violence was more than I have ever experienced in my life and it surely was not good for me.

Last year I heard something said in a movie, “Someday you will see that it wasn’t falling apart, it was all coming together.” I put it in my calendar and I pondered on it every couple of days. I thought back on some difficult times in my life, times when I was frightened, sad, and fearful of the future. I realized that in some ways that line from the movie was true for me. The pain was great, and I will never forget it. However, in each of those ordeals, something good came after, such as deeper insights, greater maturity, relishing the gifts of the love that came from so many, and because of the pain, growth, and the awareness that I was better equipped to help others in life because of it. 

The sadness and the trauma of this year will never disappear, not for me, for none of us. I know of more people who have died this past year than any other year in my life. I feel for all of those suffering economically and I hope for their financial recovery. I have friends who are still suffering from the after-effects of the disease. I know people who were so shaken by the fear of getting sick that even when everyone has been vaccinated, and COVID-19 is a thing of the past, their lives will not be the same. My heart breaks for people I know who are still suffering from depression because of the enormity of the pain of it all.

Yet as I write this blog, I am appreciative of the good that I have experienced in my life through this struggle. Friends called me every day when I was sick, which is a gift I will cherish forever. I have an even greater appreciation for nature. I found places of beauty that I never knew existed, only miles from my home. I found more opportunities to share uplifting messages and peaceful moments with others. I benefited from the great pause in our lives to get to know myself better and to become more aligned with my purpose, my life mission. Virtually or by phone or text, I connected so much more with loved ones and friends in my life. So many of us committed that we would see each other more frequently when this is over, and I know we will. And somehow, even more new friends came into my life. I saw my children and grandchildren more often, unable to hug, wearing a mask, and sometimes through a chain-link fence, but I will always cherish those times together. And there were the long walks with Marcella in the Marine Park Golf Course, a beautiful place that I drove by every day for most of my life but barely visited. I will always cherish those times with her and I will never forget the sound of the orchestra of the birds and the occasional visit of a pheasant, standing only a few feet away from us

 

When John Lennon wrote, in the song “Across the Universe,” “Pools of sorrow, waves of joy, possessing and caressing me,” he was speaking to the happiness and sadness we experience in life. Because of our humanity and our yearning for connection to each other, we will all get through this together. We will have our waves of joy. Want proof of that? Look into the eyes of a stranger, the FedEx delivery man in the lobby of your building, the woman delivering the mail on your block, a man walking a dog, the cashier at your supermarket. Smile, ask her how her day is going. See her smile back. Feel the warmth. Feel the connection, and yes, the love. That is who we are. We are not the division and hatred that we see on the news, and that we hear from too many politicians, from all political parties. We are not the anger that we see too much of on social media. We are fellow travelers sharing this wonderful life together. We were born to connect, born to give, and born to love.

We will get back to that place when happiness in our lives and the beauty and the blissful moments outnumber the moments of anxiety, uncertainty, and sadness. I believe this, I know this to be true. Why? Because I believe in humanity. I believe in us. I believe in our children, and I believe in the children yet to be born.  

 

Joe Fox

March 12, 2021

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