Keep calm and protect your friends.

More often than not, you’ll see or hear this from someone well intentioned: “At least you’re safe. You have a roof over your head and food on your table. Be thankful and quit complaining.”

We don’t exist in a vacuum. Yes, there’s a pandemic outside our windows. People are falling sick and staying sick. Some succumb, and others survive to tell the tale. As essential workers, when we show up to work, we dance a little closer to the fire that can scald us, consume us. It’s exhausting at a psychic level, the chaos and the despair.

But we don’t exist in a vacuum. I still have to make up for lost time with my children, who struggle to make sense of their topsy-turvy worlds. I have to reassure them, hug them; often cry holding them, because we’re all so tired and consumed with anxiety. The outside world seeps into our home, no matter how much we shut our doors.

Every one of us is privileged. I have the privilege of financial security, an amazing family, a bed to sleep in. I have the privilege of sitting here at my laptop, typing this for you, so you can read this from the luxury of your screen. We’re all blessed in our own ways, and we mustn’t forget that.

But we don’t exist in a vacuum. We hurt, we grumble; we’re human and we bleed. And it’s ridiculous to me we’re not allowed to, because “at least we’re safe in our homes.”

Do our problems disappear when there’s a pandemic?

Are our hearts suddenly healed, because we have a roof over our heads?

Will my son stop having anxiety attacks because he’s blessed enough to have food on his table?

Will our families, our woes cease to matter and we dare not complain, lest we look ungrateful.

The world has always been a cruel place. Wars and famines, hurricanes and other acts of God. Yet humankind moves on, one step at a time. Not because they survived the storms, but because they survived despite them. They fought enormous battles, but also stepped aside to fix the littler things in life.

We don’t exist in a vacuum. No heartbreak is too silly, and no worry is too ridiculous. We can’t expect to heal the world, when we constantly diminish those who ask for help.Why do we silence those voices which are begging to speak? If we shush someone who’s struggling before us, does that do anything except break their spirit?

We need to do our bit. To help those less fortunate. We can donate, we can volunteer, we can stay safe so others can live. But there’s more to helping than big, grand actions. If we see someone struggle, no matter who they are, we can pause and reach out, and maybe just listen. Otherwise, once this plague is behind us, we’ll be left picking up the shells of women and men, who were told to shut up.

“I’m glad you’re safe. But it’s so terrifying, isn’t it? The not-knowing, the existing. I see you, I hear you, and you matter to me.”

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