The world turned upside down.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

I was disappointed when campus closed halfway through the Winter 2020 semester. I was upset when my summer internship was cancelled. And, yeah, I’m going a little stir-crazy in self-isolation. But, the fact that I have time to be frustrated about those things is a huge privilege.

If you aren’t worried about being able to pay rent next month or contracting COVID-19 while at work on the front lines tomorrow, you’re one of the lucky ones too.

A young man with a moustache wearing a black turban stands next to a window, staring outside solemnly.

For those of us least affected by this pandemic, I think it’s important to reflect. There’s been a lot of talk about getting the world back to “normal”—but, is that really what we want? “Normal” was over a million households without enough money to put food on the table. “Normal” was an underfunded healthcare system. “Normal” was the mistreatment of workers we finally recognize as essential.

Maybe instead of trying to get back to normal, those of us lucky enough to be unaffected should take this time to visualize what the new normal should be.

A young woman with chin-length shaggy blonde hair wears a white shirt and stands next to a royal blue sign with the words "Keep calm" printed on it in white block letters. The woman wears a cloth face mask over her mouth.

The world will need time to heal in the aftermath of this pandemic. Re-examining our priorities will allow us to facilitate that process.

Here are some life lessons to take from self-isolation.

Essential means essential

When’s the last time you got upset with a minimum wage employee because they wouldn’t accept your expired coupon? Or the last time you made a joke about how, if you don’t study hard enough, you’ll end up working at McDonald’s?

These are the people keeping the world afloat right now.

A young woman in a pink shirt and a black apron stands behind a cash register, smiling. She has dark hair that is gathered in a low ponytail with two strands dangling in front of her face.

In “normal” times, individuals who provide indispensable services are scoffed at and belittled. We are privy to a strange, unwarranted sense that manual labour is easy and that those who provide it are unskilled.

We clap on our porches for healthcare workers. And, we should—they deserve it. But, we need to grant the same respect to the people who collect our garbage, build our roads and drive our busses. We cannot function without them. Not now, not ever.

A young man wearing a navy blue toque, dark blue bootcut jeans, neon yellow gloves, a grey sweater, and a bright orange reflective vest sweeps a city street with a broom and dustpan.

Essential means essential. Keep that in mind next time you look down on someone whose work uniform doesn’t include a blazer.

Mingling can’t buy happiness

Going to concerts, restaurants and parties is fun. It provides a sense of connection and a way to unwind. However, I’d argue part of the reason staying in is so difficult is it forces us to sit with unpleasant emotions.

Usually, if you have a bad day, you can make yourself feel better by grabbing coffee with a friend. You can go see a funny movie and forget about it. You can distract yourself from the things that are hard to feel by suppressing them with fun.

Yet, after you’ve finished your coffee, after the credits have rolled, your hard feelings are still there.

An empty white paper coffee cup sits atop a white and grey marble counter. The inside of the cup is stained with remnants of coffee.

We currently have fewer options when it comes to deflecting the tough stuff. When you have a bad day, you have to feel it. And that’s really scary. It makes you ask yourself, “What do I truly need to be happy?” and, perhaps more importantly, “How can I find it without validation from others?”

I don’t have an answer to that. But, I know I’ll continue going on walks and prioritizing alone time long after campus reopens.

silhouette of a young person walking alone on a pier. Behind them is a still body of water and a cloudless blue sky.

There are many ways to say “I love you”

Not only does wading in difficult emotions force us to examine our relationship with ourselves, but it also requires us to look at our relationships with others.

If you’re someone who prioritizes quality time as a way of showing affection, you’ve probably found the last few months really straining. A silver MacBook with black keys displays a video call with a young man with short, dark hair.

It’s almost like we’re all in a long-distance relationship with everyone we care about. That gives us an unprecedented opportunity to inspect our relationships from a near-external perspective and figure out what our loved ones need in order to feel cared about.

In other words, the way you tell your sister you love her will most likely be different than the way you tell your grandma. And, that’s okay; love looks different on everyone.

Through social distancing, we can learn how to express affection towards others in a way that resonates best with them—an essential part of community care.

Four humanoid wooden board game pieces sit in a line on a cement ground. From left to right, they are purple, red, orange and yellow.

The human spirit

Near the top of 2020s ever-growing list of buzzwords is “the human spirit.” It’s been the subject of news articlesadvertisements, and think pieces. At the risk of sounding bitter, I find it rather vapid.

The phrase, “the human spirit needs to get us through these times,” implies the human spirit is an independent essence, existing with or without our intervention. It’s like when people say, “Our society is bad,” or, “Our society is so judgemental.” We are society. We are the human spirit. If we want to change things, we can.

A circular sign stands against a textured army green wall. The sign is royal blue with a red border and two white arrows, one pointing left, the other pointing right.

It’s great to see people supporting each other amid this pandemic. Every time I see a story about students volunteering at food banks or teachers going the extra mile, my heart lights up. That doesn’t have to stop when the Eaton Centre reopens.

We can choose to be socially conscious–whether or not there’s a global pandemic. We can continue to recognize and reward those who keep the world moving. The human spirit isn’t magic; it’s us.

Everything comes down to us.

Silhouette of a person standing on a cliff overlooking a crowded city skyline.

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