Stranger Days #21: Navigating the Absence of Challenge

A chalk board with Scrabble letters that spell out "Stranger Days".

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Welcome to stranger days--my blog series exploring daily life, challenges in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just sharing insights or thoughts about how to make it through these days.  

It's a conversation I've had a few times recently that I thought I would share. If your experience is anything like mine, then you're probably regularly checking in with folks about how they are doing, knowing that it's been a strange and challenging month since this all started to go down.

I hear from friends and family with some who are suffering and navigating real challenges such as loss of jobs or loved ones, dealing with child frustrations (the child's or their own), and sense of self as these weeks go on. Things are hard and bleak all around. 

But then there's my experience. Yes, I'm homebound like many others, but the impact feels inconsequential. My work is such that it allowed me to pivot online almost seamlessly and to be an increased value to the institute that I work at.  Additionally, financially, this has helped us save money as we are not going out as much or driving or doing other things.  Our school loans are being put on hold while simultaneously counting towards our public loan forgiveness months. We've also been able to take advantage of the freed-up time from commuting to do more gardening, relaxing, and spending time with folks (via zoom, obviously). On top of all, I am taking a new position at another institute that entails a promotion and an opportunity to work at a place that I'm really excited about (a more detailed post about that will be forthcoming).  

In basic terms, the distribution of travesty and opportunity in COVID-19 has not been given out equally.  That's no surprise given how unfairly things are distributed in this country (and world for that matter).  But more so than in the usual ways, it feels like I am in many ways benefitting from this ordeal disproportionately.  And that just doesn't sit right with me for so many reasons.  

Of course, some of these I can step back and say, that it's not just me.  The student loans and loan-forgiveness months counting are likely benefitting many folks who need that break.  Other folks are saving time and money by not having to transport to and from work.  Others are going stir-crazy enough to take up new projects. But in reflecting on how normal my life is despite a pandemic and catastrophic unemployment, it just makes the evidence of privilege so much more tangible.   

My partner has come to refer to it at times as a form of survivor's guilt and that might be the closest I can come to explaining it. I keep using the analogy that I borrowed from Arlie Russell Hochschild in her book, Strangers in the Own Land of standing in line.  If feels like we are all in a big line, waiting to do something.  Someone has come along and arbitrarily taken many people out, including many around us, but not us.  There's no rhyme or reason, but somehow, we're not just still in line but we have been moved up a bit further.  And it feels very odd to move forward in that line.  

In part, because it's not so arbitrary in some ways--as a middle-class, white, male with advanced education--my privilege eases my way through the process. The research is already emerging about how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color. So it goes beyond just feeling "lucky" but feeling like the lack of impact that I feel at the moment as has much to to with structural inequality and inequity as it does with anything else.  

And that's hard to sit with or to figure out what to do about it both in the immediate moment and when we get through this.  It's that issue that sits at the back of my mind when I'm asked how I am doing.  I am doing fine, many others aren't, and much of that has to do with systematic injustice--and while naming it is good; what do I do with that ultimately?  

So it's a complicated space to be in, when answering the question about how I am doing. I'm doing fine; but in doing fine, I not fine with that answer.  

What about you?  How are you figuring out your place in this, particularly as it relates to thinking about privilege and the convenience/inconveniences you face?

Take care. Be careful. Be care-filled.  Welcome to stranger days.

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