That’s probably my favorite phrase. I usually use it when I’m trying to get through a tough situation, or when I give advice to people with tinnitus. It’s very effective for people who’ve recently developed it. This too shall pass, meaning: you won’t always feel this gut-wrenching, churning fear. It will move on, and be replaced by something else.
Of course, this phrase is one of duality, and I don’t usually talk about the other side of it. This too shall pass means two things- as bad things go, so do the good. It is, effectively, a reflection on the temporary nature of life. Bad and good, in a cyclical dance.
Whenever I open up my calendar and look at this month- March- I see so many events and appointments I had planned. Vacations I booked in January, promises to grab coffee or go out for a drink. A jaunt to Pike Place Market- bustling, bright, colorful. I planned for normalcy, expecting time to move swiftly and regularly. There was no thought to it, no consideration for the phrase I’ve used so many times in my life.
This too shall pass.
Because it did.
I live in Seattle, in the midst of a global pandemic. We are considered one of the outbreak zones in the United States. Schools are closed, major events have been cancelled, and everyone is holed up in their respective homes and apartments and micro studios. Social distancing is the life we live now. It is an eerie, disturbing version of Seattle’s inclination for social isolation. This time, meeting with friends could mean the death of someone else.
At the time I’m writing this, there are at least 769 cases of the coronavirus in Washington. 42 people have died from it. Numbers pale, though, when you consider the anguish of families; the tireless work of EMTs and doctors and nurses and scientists and researchers; the uncertainty of so many lives. A number is easy to glaze over and hard to conceptualize, until you have an entire day, stuck in your home, to consider it. 42 lives, lost.
Several local restaurants and businesses have closed, quickly and violently. Their customers disappear and their revenue drops 50%, and suddenly they have no way to pay rent. Restaurant and bar workers are let go. Pike Place Market vendors temporarily close up shop. An artist friend told me they may not be able to afford living in Seattle anymore, because their business has dried up so rapidly.
It’s like watching a beautiful plant decay in front of me. A city I have grown to love and fiercely protect is rotting from the inside out, and I feel powerless to do anything about it.
There are things we can do, though, to slow the spread of the virus while also supporting people, places and businesses that we love. We can stay inside, call friends, buy gift cards, order delivery, donate to Venmos and GoFundMes. But the dread is still there inside all of us, I think. The knowledge that this is not normal, when will this end, and what will happen to people and places that I love?
And despite doing all I can, I still feel powerless. This is the result of that, a reflection of all the feelings whipping around inside of me. A byproduct of living through history.
We are living through history, although I never knew doing so would make me feel this way. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but this is different. This is a deep, shocked, rattling anxiety that allows everyone to still function, but remains wedged deep in our hearts like a parasite. It is the anxiety of the unknown, the realization of the phrase I used so much, I forgot its meaning.
This too shall pass.
But, of course, as I mentioned before, there’s a flip side to that. Because eventually, this too shall pass.
I do believe it. Normalcy will return, to an extent- but lives will be lost, people will be gone, institutions shuttered, families struggling and grieving. And while what is gone will be smoothed over by time and replaced with something else, what is missing will remain a permanent crack that cannot be fully closed, a tattoo that will never fully heal.
I’ve noticed the incredible music of the Seattle Symphony, played for everyone to hear through a free livestream. The show I work for, compiling a list of restaurants and businesses you can help during this time. The social media posts of people staying inside, flattening the curve, spending time with their families. How the sun flits across the blooms of a tree. The sound of a tea kettle. The smell of a candle. Small, gentle things.
This too shall pass. But while we’re in this liminal space, between what was and what will happen, we are lending kindness to one another. That is the soft spot in this murky time- kindness shows itself quickly and brightly amid the gray. While I’m worried, I’m awed and inspired to see what people can do for one another in times of struggle. I see it in so many ways. Donating to a charity. Staying inside as much as possible. Washing your hands like a fiend. Calling an anxious friend or family member.
You can borrow my phrase if it helps said friend or family member. There’s depth to it, and perhaps more anxiety when you get down to the core meaning. But no matter what happens, how bad this situation becomes or how quickly it heals itself, that phrase will always be true.