Reflections on a Pandemic: Lauren Wolk
Over the past few weeks we reached out across our region to people from all walks of life. We asked them to share their thoughts as they navigate through the pandemic.
Here is one of the essays featured on our Voices of the Pandemic episode of The Point.
The Importance of Being Counted
I’m Lauren Wolk. As I spend time in isolation, I keep seeing ads for the U.S. Census. How important it is for us to be counted. And I agree with that. The thing is, I’m not just one person. I’m a lot of different people jammed into one skin. Well, that’s true of all of us. Human beings are complicated. The problem is that some of my several selves are in conflict as we spend these long weeks together, waiting out the corona virus.
On the one hand, I’m happy to have more time at home to write. For years, I’ve been cramming my writing time into the early morning hours before I have to leave for work. Now, since I’m working from home, I don’t have to devote time to travel or, for that matter, trying to look human. I roll out of bed and write until the rest of the world is ready for zoom meetings or conference calls and for the emails to begin again. As a writer, I know how to turn isolation to my advantage. So I consider myself very lucky, that I am able both to write and keep my job right now.
But one of my other selves, the one who works for the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, is living in a state of high anxiety. That version of me is desperate to keep my beloved institution alive and well, so I spend my days writing grant proposals, letters to donors, press releases … whatever will let the world know that we’re still here! We’re still serving the community. We’re more relevant than ever. Even if our doors are shut for a while. Our lights out. Our building empty. That version of myself gets impatient with the one who wants to write novels all day. And she’s constantly berating my third self. The one who has worked steadily for the past several decades and wants nothing more than to immerse herself in this new quiet. This stillness. This slowness. I have grown fond of this unusual tranquility, even as I worry about the state of the world, about my mother living alone in Cotuit, about my sister living alone in Boston, about two sons who have sequestered themselves as well. Do they have enough to eat? Are they safe? Will I see them again soon?
The fourth version of myself counts my blessings all day long as if I’m a clock that marks the hours with gratitude on the one hand, guilt on the other. Compared to so many, we are incredibly fortunate, with no reason to complain. But here’s the thing that all of my selves have in common. We all know that millions of people the world over live in a constant state of fear and misfortune. Millions of people, many of them children, have spent their whole lives in poverty. For them, not having enough to eat is a constant. Being ill is a constant. Being vulnerable is a constant. Where, for them, is the worldwide call to action? Why is there no daily press conference for them? Poverty is no more their fault than corona virus is the fault of those in our ICUs or our morgues.
If being a writer had taught me anything, it’s to look past the obvious to what’s beneath. To see what we all have in common. Our frailties. Our confusion. Our humanity. And I know that the vast majority of people want to do more for the more vulnerable among us.
If working for a non profit has taught me anything, it’s that there are kind and generous people everywhere who believe to their boots in causes like the arts, education, conservation, feeding the hungry, and healing the sick. But they shouldn’t be the only ones giving, and volunteering, and wishing they could do more. Much more of what we all pay in taxes to run our governments should be devoted to soup kitchens and clinics and food banks and shelters … and to the permanent solutions that would make those places obsolete.
If being a mother, and a wife, and a sister, and a daughter and a friend has taught me anything, it’s that we must take care of each other and our planet if we’re to survive.
And if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that we have, right now, an opportunity to be better than we’ve been.
I don’t want to go back to the ways things were. I want to go forward to the way things ought to be. All of my several selves agree that this, right here, is our chance for meaningful change. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” But the time has come to see what a huge group of thoughtful, committed citizens can do. Millions of thoughtful, committed citizens. Billions of us. Just imagine what we can accomplish if we stand up to be counted.