• America 2020 Project

Personal Reflections

It feels as though this last week has been the climax of so many emotions for me. Tomorrow was supposed to be the day that I returned home after visiting 49 of the 50 states (Hawaii was to be in September). Instead, I’ve been “home” for two months, having only truly completed filming in 8 states. In a couple of weeks I planned to be back in Richmond, ready to work on season 2 of World Beyond. Instead, I sit and wait for news as to when I’ll be able to return. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide how to move forward with my documentary. Do I give up? Do I keep pushing on with what I’ve got? Do I rework this project yet again so that I can continue it when conditions are better and I have more experience? Will I get this opportunity again, or will being unemployed for who-knows-how-long drain my life savings? I have so many questions that are truly unable to be answered at this time. I’m having to let go. And wait. And wait and wait and wait.

As I wait I spend a LOT of time on social media. Too much time. As an empath, I take on so much of the pain I see in others. And this time has been hard to handle. I haven’t had enough time to process, and instead it’s just more and more piling on. Truthfully, some days it feels unbearable to know how much the world is suffering right now. It hurts to see how many people are broken right now, suffering. Maybe they are still out of work, maybe they are out of options for paying the bills or putting food on their table, maybe they’ve lost their insurance and have no way of taking care of themselves and their families in the middle of a global pandemic. Or maybe they are working through the “shutdown”, putting their own lives on the line in order to help save others. My heart has broken more than once listening to friends tell me about their loved ones who are in the hospital, scared and alone. Friends who have loved ones who have passed away and they are unable to go say goodbye in their final moments, or even have any sort of memorial service. Until who knows when. It hurts to see so many people who believe this isn’t as serious as it is. It hurts to see people behave carelessly, recklessly, without any consideration for their neighbors and loved ones.

I think what frustrates me the most is seeing how black and white thinking has become. For many, that’s always been the case, but it seems like an epidemic. Fewer and fewer people take the time to do any sort of listening, any critical thinking, any time at all to look at the other side and see if perhaps there’s more to it. It’s easy to do, when you’re passionate about something. It’s easy to get riled up and get going on something and not stop to think or listen. It truly is, and by no means am I saying I never do it myself. But we all have the power to stop.

In the past few weeks (or months, even) I’ve had so many mixed emotions about things, and I try my best to do my responsible due diligence, as compared to going off of what I see on social media or sticking to biased news sources, or listening to pretty much ANY politicians. I want to know all sides of situations, because even if it doesn’t change my mind, it gives me some insight into what other people are thinking or feeling, which leads to better and more productive conversations. (Pro tip for anyone who ever wanted to “switch” someone over to their side: listening and understanding the opposing point of view is incredibly beneficial, though this shouldn’t be your only reason for having productive conversations.)

This was one of the bases for my project- I wanted to give EVERYONE, regardless of whom they were, the opportunity to share their thoughts, and their voice. I spoke to people of all different backgrounds, races, sexualities, genders, political leanings, religions… and my prediction (at least so far in the 8 southernmost states from Arizona to Florida) was true- we all have so much more in common than we think, we just often express it in different ways. When we are so quick to snap into judgment, we miss the opportunity to connect on a human level with others. We miss the opportunity for progress and collaboration. We miss the opportunity to make a difference that we can all work with.

On a more particular level, in terms of The Pandemic, I fought it at first. I thought this would be just like the Ebola scare a while back, serious, but only for those who put themselves at risk. As I traveled west, I kept feeling like everyone was overreacting and I said as much. Once I reached the west coast and whole cities began shutting down (Los Angeles and Las Vegas were nearly ghost towns by the time I arrived), I started to realize that this was much more serious than I knew. At that time I wasn’t worried for my own health, but I began to worry about passing the disease on to someone who may be at risk. It wasn’t until I got back to Virginia that I was able to really understand what we were facing, and I realized that I had been handling it all wrong. I felt so ashamed (and still do at times) that I hadn’t done enough research to keep myself, the people I encountered, their loved ones, and my loved ones safe.

In fairness, up until that point, there was so much misinformation out there and so many people talking out of their ass about something that really no one fully understood. And it seemed everyone was listening to someone different. But all along there were scientists, real actual scientists, telling us what to do. For months before things even hit the U.S. scientists and politicians were talking about this. Why didn’t we listen to the scientists? Well, there’s countless disaster movies out there about that, so we won’t get into that here.

To circle back to the topic at hand, I have spent much of the last two months wondering why people are unwilling to simply accept scientific facts. And I have spent a little too much time arguing online and letting myself get angry or upset about people’s willing ignorance and seeming cold-heartedness toward their neighbors. I spent some time considering the other side this week. I needed to, to let go of some of the frustration and anxiety I was feeling. And here’s how that conversation with myself went: - Why is this so hard for people to do such simple things as wearing a mask or staying home, when it could save thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of lives?

- Why in God’s name are we “opening” the country back again when every reputable health expert is saying it’s too soon?

- How are people prioritizing making money, hanging out with friends, getting haircuts, going to the mall, etc. etc. over the lives of actual human beings?

- On the flip side, some people can’t afford masks or can’t find them, and they aren’t comfortable asking or don’t know whom to ask about finding one. Some people can’t stay home- they have to work, they have to care for their loved ones, they are doing things to help others. Not everyone is being reckless.

- I hate the terminology being used surrounding this situation as though we are being forced to literally LOCK ourselves into our homes like a prison, or that we are completely shutting our country down for business, eliminating the ability for people to make a living or provide for their family, across the board. Yes, many (MANY) people lost their jobs either temporarily or long-term and many people are struggling, however many places were able to adapt and adjust to the circumstances. You’re not in prison, and you have the freedom to technically come and go as you please. You want to get out of the house but for some reason you get stopped and asked to return home? Tell them you’re going to the doctor or to work or to get groceries or medical supplies. Those things are all allowed. You ARE being asked to stay home for your own protection as well as that of your neighbors. You ARE being asked to respect the wishes of individuals and businesses who wish to enact measures to protect their customers, friends, and family. You are being ASKED to respect others. I can’t help but wonder if we’d changed the verbiage if perhaps it’d be easier for some people to swallow.

- I have especially struggled with this idea of “screw everybody, I refuse to go broke, let’s open back up”, especially when statistics show we are going to experience a second, likely deadlier, wave of infections once we do “open up” again. To me its like the concept of “you can have $5 now or $500 later if you wait”. Either we open back up now, killing more people, having to close down again later for perhaps even longer, doing further damage to the economy than we can imagine currently, OR we stay home now and yes, struggle some – it’s not easy, I know!- but perhaps avoid a worse second wave, resulting in less death and less economic destruction. But again, on the other side of this, I do understand that some people are already stretched beyond their limits- they have no more resources, they have no more places to turn for assistance. Many people have no choice but to open their businesses or go back to work.

- I also understand the concept of not “living in fear”. I don’t believe taking precautions to save thousands of lives is “living in fear”, and again it drives me bananas to see people word it that way. But I do understand the idea that we can’t stay holed up in our homes forever, and if we don’t know when this will end, it’s impossible to truly tell when it’s time to take that risk on our health to venture out for more than necessities. I’m of the opinion that we should listen to the experts’ predictions on this, because that is the best indicator that we have. But I also understand that some people feel more comfortable taking that risk now than I do. While I may wholeheartedly disagree, I do understand.

The last piece of this puzzle for me has been learning to not take people’s choices personally. To me, having friends and loved ones go out without a mask, hang out in public places with others, open their businesses back up… it felt like a slap in the face to see people that I respect choose to be so cavalier with the lives of their community. It felt like they were saying directly to me “I don’t give a crap about you or your family, I want to go have a beer with my friends.” And I said as much, to many of them. But the truth is this is a big world, with over seven billion people. Not all of them are going to abide by the rules, by a long shot. This is true in every aspect of life, is it not? So what can I do, then? I can abide by the rules to the best of my own ability. I can stay home. I can wear a mask if I have to venture out. I can be a place where people can seek help or get information in a judgment free way. I can do everything in my power to help those who need it during this challenging time. I can continue to do my best to protect myself and my loved ones, and try to lead by example.

All I ask of you, if you’ve read this far, is to slow down for a moment and consider what I’ve written. Try to see through someone else’s eyes and understand where they’re coming from. Do the best you can to protect yourself and your loved ones. And most of all, be kind, without reason. Help others in every way that you can. It truly does make the world a better place and in cases like this, it just might save lives.

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