We have hard time understanding how it feels to live inside a body that is not our own. This difficulty contributes to our human tendency toward being selfish. We also depend on the collective efforts and intentions of our diverse community. This became clear to many as we have struggled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives.
I find centering my understanding in the fragility of the human body to allow me to be motivated to work in healthcare and public health. I am fragile. You are fragile. We have no way of knowing exactly what will go wrong with our bodies (until we reach Gattaca levels of DNA interpretation). Your cells might make a mistake and cause cancer. Your brain might be wired toward depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia. Some of us struggle with infertility. Some of us run ultra-marathons through Death Valley (not me). No one will exit this world unscathed by the inevitability of our fragility.
The question I would urge each of us to ask, that should be at the heart of our individual and community efforts is whether we are having a positive impact on the quality and length of the lives of others. This is what a health in all policies approach means to me. This is why health equity is important. We are guaranteed to struggle with something – physical, mental, social – and we need our systems to be there to catch us when we fall, for all of us. We need to be there for each other. We need to teach ourselves how to understand what it feels like to live in someone else’s body.
The phrase “building our emotional personal protective equipment ” from our mid-August webinar still echoes in my mind. This has been a huge challenge for me as many of the mechanisms through which I build emotional PPE have been unavailable this year – namely, being around people! I am sure I am not alone in this feeling. We have all had to turn inward to build emotional PPE – meditation, yoga, learning new hobbies like knitting or canning or making kombucha or adopting puppies (yes me).
I really want to sit around a huge Thanksgiving table with my mother, grandmother, aunts and uncles and complain about how turkey is never good as it is always dry (feel free to disagree). Instead we will have a sort of celebration over Zoom and complain about the trauma of 2020. My daughter will get used to playing hide and seek over the computer with the kids of our friends. I will hope that this does not cause the development of neural pathways that are somehow bad for her.
President Abraham Lincoln, a man who was intimately acquainted with trauma, stigma, and internal struggle, said “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Famous quotes are famous for a reason. We do have better angels within us all. We must teach ourselves to strengthen this better part of ourselves. We must learn and teach others how to be antiracist. We must learn to see through the eyes of others, to understand how their struggles, their trauma has informed the way in which they see the world.
We don’t know what the future holds. This is hard, this is not fair, but maybe facing the challenges of our current day is why we are all here in the first place.
Ginny Weir, MPH
Director, Bree Collaborative