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Observer Editorial: Make room for kindness

| Friday, March 27, 2020

We are living in the midst of an unprecedented global event with lasting medical, social, political and economic effects, and it sucks. Period.

Many of us are lucky enough to be watching life slow to a gentle halt from our homes, surrounded by family. Others are battling this novel coronavirus on the front lines, in overwhelmed and overflowing hospitals. As of Thursday evening in the U.S. alone, more than 81,000 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 and are fighting to catch their breath against a virus that targets the most vulnerable among us. More than 500,000 have been affected worldwide.

This is a sobering reality that must be taken into account when examining our own conditions as Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students, sent home from school and instructed to withdraw from the world.

College students expected to return from spring break to the final weeks of second semester — the promise of sun-drenched, albeit residually chilly, quads with music filtering through opened windows. Instead, we’re sleeping in our childhood beds and taking classes through buffering Google Hangouts or Zoom sessions.

Many feelings accompany social distancing, most prominent being uncertainty and claustrophobia. A sense of grief is present as well as loneliness. But what if we made room for new feelings? What if we made room for connection and community?

What if we made room for kindness?

Earlier this week, we learned that a member of the Observer family tested positive for COVID-19. In an honest column, she shared her story and issued a powerful imperative: Stay home for your own sake as well as the sake of others. Fight the urge to travel and congregate in large numbers. Follow the health and safety recommendations detailed by the CDC and local governments.

Today, doing nothing is truly the best way to do something about COVID-19. These guidelines and recommendations are one of the best ways to be kind — to the elderly and the immunocompromised; to doctors and nurses working day and night to treat the growing number of those infected; to those you love and those you’ve never met.

There are other ways to be kind that seem quite obvious but should be reiterated. This virus was never Chinese even though it originated in Hubei province. Do not amplify xenophobia, racist taunts or ignorance.

Remember the sense of loss you are feeling is widespread. Students studying abroad were beckoned home from months of travel and adventure. Seniors will miss the traditions that usually fill their final months of college life. Families mourn the loss of loved ones afflicted with the virus. Workers who relied on a steady income and are no longer getting paid are scrambling to find ways to make ends meet. Everyone feels at least a little bit lost right now.

Now more than ever, it’s essential we create spaces for communion — in online discussion groups, Zoom parties, long phone calls and other technological meeting places. We can work on being alone together through screens. We are blessed to be living in a generation where these technological avenues are prominent in everyday life.

In “Pandemic,” published earlier in March, poet Lynn Ungar shows us what kindness looks like today.

“Do not reach out your hands./Reach out your heart./Reach out your words./Reach out all the tendrils/of compassion that move, invisibly,/where we cannot touch.”

Check in on your friends, even the funny ones who always snort when they laugh. Let those who rely on the structure of normal life for stability know you’re thinking of them, and consider inviting them into conversations surrounding mental health.

Another exercise of kindness is practicing patience with yourself. Every day brings a front page saturated with news of COVID-19. You are allowed and invited to step away for a while. It is so easy to succumb to societal pressure to use this time to always be productive, whatever that may mean. Remember, simply staying at home is enough. Turn your phone off for an hour — the news can wait. Make time to take care of yourself.

Together, we have entered a state of national emergency that calls for immediate, collective action. But one day, that will end. Until that time comes, be informed, be cautious and be patient. Most importantly, be kind.

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