COVID-19 in 2020: Cleaning up from atop my soapbox

Nancy's painting of a goddess
The Goddess Within, painted by Nancy

Like so many others, Nancy Flagg has been at home since March. A significant change in how she moves (or used to) throughout her daily life, and one that has caused her to think deeply about many things. In this personal essay, she shares some reflections on how the threat of COVID-19 has altered our lives. She also shares some pictures of how she is spending a lot of her time — nurturing new growth. Fruit trees, plentiful vegetables, flowers, and on a deeper and grander scale, herself.

Nancy wrote her essay in May. Since then, the U.S. unemployment rate has gone down (currently 11.1%) and the number of confirmed COVID cases in the country has gone up and continues to rise (currently 4,234,140).

Here is Nancy’s story:

We all know. Six feet apart. $1200. 20% unemployment. Millions infected. Too many gone.

But what does it mean? How do we make sense of all we know. What is true? What can we count on?

We know only what we actually know. What we can see. What we witness. What is tangible.

We believe the stories that support what we already believe. So what do we believe? Are we safe? Are we good? Are we kind? Can we do this?

The economy is pitted against the contagiousness of the virus, its deadly potential, it’s lingering effects. This opposition of production versus protection happens as if one can exist without the other. The economy is the people who work in it. It is their expertise and skills that make the work happen. The souls behind the numbers are our family members, friends, neighbors. The families collecting the boxes of food in the lines of cars are our coworkers, our customers, our selves. We look at our resources in an entirely new way every time we get an update on the state of affairs and rethink our options.

There are incremental changes to our freedoms, given and taken away.

We can’t go out.
We can.
We shouldn’t wear masks.
We needn’t.
We should.
We must.
It will go away.
It won’t.
It didn’t.
We’ll get a check.
We didn’t.
We might.

Not us versus them, right? We and it. That’s what’s real now. It never really was us versus them, but it did seem so for a long time.

Nancy photo collage

It is not a pretty way to activate creativity and compassion, but it is a quick one. People are delivering food to their neighbors, sharing cash, creating artful games on concrete sidewalk squares to entertain and amuse, engage, and connect. They are screaming at one another, crying with their fear and loneliness. They are experiencing their truth. Counting out what they have, what’s left, how long it can last. They are planting and painting, fixing, and scrubbing. They are wondering how it all came to this. How long it could have lasted even without a minuscule virus to blend it all up and freeze it in its suspension. We all know we are in transformative times with all the stress and confusion, apprehension and trepidation of a people awaiting results of a test. What are the correct answers? Will we pass?

But here’s the catch… if we are to liken our predicament to a vision test, 20/20 vision only means we can see at twenty feet what most people can see at twenty feet. It does not mean we can see into the future, that we can see around the globe, that we can see what we are not looking at.

What we do know is that this new patterning of life will be different. We need not resurrect the ways that were destroying us with fatigue, waste, unnecessary misunderstandings. We can introduce refined systems that serve more of us more efficiently, as well as invent entirely new ways to support those who were never considered. We can listen to the real challenges presented by an airborne virus that exposes the preexisting conditions our society has already had. Time to clean and dress, feed, and rest. We are birthing another Era. This is a big one. We get to be the designers and the builders.

Nancy's homemade bread

We are called upon by necessity* (we all know her child) to do better. We must make our supplies last. We must share them so everyone’s talents can survive the bleak times. If we can’t fix what’s happening far away, let’s fix what’s under our feet. If we can’t afford to do it later, let’s do it in real-time. What better place than our beloved Portland, Maine? What better interval than monthly, long enough to make headway, not so long as to lose interest. Let’s all set a goal to make our tiny edge of the universe the utopia we can imagine. We can’t do everything, but we most definitely can do something.

Nancy Flagg


Necessity is the mother of invention.

From the Republic, written by the Greek philosopher, Plato. 

Has COVID-19 forced you to make drastic changes in your life? To do things a different way? To discover solutions you’d never even considered before? If you’d like to share your story, send me an email or tell us what you’re doing in the comment section below.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.