I went to Walmart the other day and by the time I was halfway through the store, I was in such a panic about COVID-19 and the end of the world that I started throwing shit I never buy into my cart. Shit like salt and vinegar kettle chips; baked Cheetos; and cheese popcorn.
“You were panic shopping,” my sister said. And she should know. Not two seconds later, she sent me a picture of the first two things she put in her cart: A Kombucha and Peeps.
Either someone needs to talk to my parents about their parenting style, or my sister and I are living examples of what happens to the white middle upper class American brain when it senses crisis.
I, like many of you, laughed off the coronavirus when it was harassing China. It was far away, China is more densely populated than the U.S., it’s just a strain of flu. What in God’s name is the big deal? I even started planning a trip to Puerto Rico. A conference I was supposed to attend at the end of March got canceled so my travel obsessed brain went immediately to the plummeting airline ticket prices.
But then COVID-19 jumped the boarder, Trump botched every opportunity to protect his citizens and my sister brought the issue home. “Ivy, what about mom and dad? What if they got it?”
And then, “Thank God you don’t have cancer anymore.”
My parents are older as parents of grown children tend to be and my dad, who I love dearly, isn’t in good shape. He’s been sick with some cold or another pretty much all winter and he’s high risk. Once I thought about life without him or my mother, the coronavirus finally landed on my soil.
The next day, I woke up in a panic. I am not a worrier or an anxious person, but that day I was both, which is why an urge that rarely surfaces for me—that of shopping, of consuming—arose. Hence, Walmart, which did not have hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, or hand soap. I observed these things and continued through the store. It wasn’t until witnessing a kerfuffle over toilet paper, which is what I had gone to Walmart to get, that I started dumping chips and other preservatives into my cart. There was no toilet paper, as expected, and the lack of it threw some big dude in an absolute rage.
“You don’t understand me? I need toilet paper. You’re hiding it from me.” He screamed—screamed—at a Walmart employee and then loudly bitched about it to the woman he was with as he moved through the store.
That’s when I joined in the me grab. Me needs this, me needs that, me might need this, that and the other. As I moved through the store and encountered more and more empty shelves and freezer cases, I grabbed more junk that I never eat. By the time I was finished, I had a freezer full of food in my cart. Never in my life have I had a packed freezer. I eat fresh and go to the grocery store often because I can. The only time I remember having a scarcity mindset (because I’m privileged) was when I was honeymooning in a hurricane in Mexico. Then there really wasn’t any food or water.
“I just spent $300 at the grocery store,” I texted a friend.
“Grocery store? You should be at the weed store and the liquor store.”
Correct. In classic privileged (see a theme here?) fashion, right after Walmart, I paid sin taxes at each establishment, securing a modern day supply of escapism. Yes, I plan on being high for a significant portion of this crisis, but it’s not because I can’t get toilet paper. It’s because I shouldn’t be worrying about whether I can get toilet paper.
As the Americans that I observe—self-included but to a degree—hoard, I wonder how other populations that have smaller refrigerators and bigger worldviews are protecting those they love. Although uncertainty is alarming and somewhat terrifying, it’s also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to do what we can to help others. Instead of grasping tightly to our independence, we can recognize that we are part of a collective and do what we can to keep that collective healthy. We can also gracefully acquire what we need rather than what we’re capable of buying.
In addition to looking at the collective, we can practice that which make us distinctively human: Compassion. This crisis is not about you. This crisis is not a conspiracy or something someone else did to you. It just is.
It is like cancer is.
It is like a fatal car accident is.
It is like a layoff is.
It just is.
We are in the is and when things is, you be and be mindfully. That is literally all you have to do.
What we need right now, is to start looking at humanity and seeing our place in it. Stop passing through screens and look. Look at your hand, your face and your family. These three things are tessellated billions of times around the world.
There is no core difference between this mother/wife/grandmother/moral leader, whom I love more than anything in the world,
and this one.
These is no core difference between this turkey
And this one.
There is no core difference. None. There are differences in access and belief, but there is no difference in the structure. We exist within each other or we don’t exist at all. We are being stripped of everything but our humanity. There is a reason for this. Take note, lean in and stop holding on.
What I want to offer right now is an opportunity to breathe. I’m going to spend ten of my most panic stricken minutes every day in a silent tonglen practice. I’m going to breathe in the bad because I am strong and healthy and sound of mind and protected and I’m going to filter it through my loving heart and push it right back out into the world. I’m not going to look for toilet paper. I’m not going to hoard shit. I’m not going to act like an animal. I invite you to do the same. Take these moments to dial back into your heart. Please. This world doesn’t need toilet paper. It needs heart.