Among the list of tracks on Lauryn Hill’s 2002 MTV Unplugged album is a song titled “I Get Out” where the chorus begins:
I get out, I’ll get out of all your boxes…
But if you’re fortunate enough to have a roof over your head, internet access, good health, and a job and that permits telework, you may find yourself moving from one box to another in this Age of COVID-19:
- The box of your computer screen.
- The box of your smartphone or tablet.
- The “Brady Bunch” box of faces on Zoom, Skype or some other video conferencing tool.
- The box of the window used to socialize at a distance with neighbors.
- The box of public health protocols that restrict how you live, learn, and play.
We won’t be getting out of these boxes for a good while.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, nearly four billion people on the planet—half of humanity—find themselves under some sort of order to stay in their homes, the New York Times reported on April 3.
It’s as if half the planet is in time-out.
Many of these boxes have always been there, but we didn’t perceive them as confinements because we had the option to leave them. In our lives Before Corona (B.C.), we had the freedom to trade screen time for face time; virtual reality for real-life scenery; digital connection for physical presence.
Of all the boxes, the most significant one is the box of our own mind. This pandemic compels us to sit with ourselves and reflect on who and what we truly value.
My 2020 Census form arrived last week and I dutifully went online and filled in the boxes attached to each question: How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2020? What is your age and date of birth? What is your race?
The questionnaire reminded me of the countless boxes, really default classifications, that shape us individually and collectively: Male or Female. Black or White. Straight or Not. Rich Nation or Poor Country. Have or Have-Not.
We land in many of these boxes by accident of birth or zip code. Others are inescapably forced upon us. Some we get to break away from and define for ourselves.
Of all the boxes, the most significant we contend with is the box of our own mind. This pandemic compels us to sit with ourselves (whether alone or with family) and reflect on who and what we truly value as the tick-tock of the coronavirus news cycle dramatically underscores the interconnectedness of humanity.
Last month one of my favorite bloggers, Luvvie Ajayi Jones (a.k.a. Awesomely Luvvie), shared a piece entitled “What I’m Learning From This Coronavirus Crisis So Far” in which she expressed something that resonated:
These situations call for us to be the best versions of ourselves. These crises moments call for us to elevate whoever we were, change, grow, mature, evolve. If we do not do it, we’re going to keep getting the same expensive and heart-wrenching lessons. We need to ask ourselves what we should be learning from all this.
Luvvie’s remark echoed a recent Facebook post from a friend in which she shared a diagram of concentric circles that begins with the question, “Who do I want to be during COVID-19?” (below). It then guides users through three zones, each labeled with associated actions: FEAR (“hoard food, toilet paper & medicines I don’t need”), LEARNING (“I identify my emotions”), and GROWTH (“I find ways to adapt to changes”).
The diagram is a helpful framework for mental health in these anxious times, but the crucial follow-up question is this: Who do I want to be after COVID-19?
In answering this question, we may discover the box that confines, in fact, frees us to reimagine ourselves and the world—for the better.
Previously Published on [email protected]