• Peter Stadalsky

5 Things That Took a Pandemic for Me to Learn

Updated: May 1, 2020


Very few saw this pandemic coming, and the few that did were too quiet and outnumbered to do a thing about it. Opinions have been relentlessly exchanged on what we could have done to prevent this, but an equally important conversation is how we can respond to what we have in front of us. Human beings are incredibly adaptive, resilient, and creative. We don't initially enjoy adversity, but it is one of the great forces that always pushes us to change and grow. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what there is to learn from all this - to peel back the coating of fear and see deeper into what such an unpredictable time is teaching me, and what it has to say about the kind of person I am. Here are five things I never knew it would take a pandemic to teach me:

1.Things can’t and shouldn’t just go back to “normal”

I think most would agree that we just want coronavirus to go away so we can carry on with the way things used to be. I believe that is an illusion. Not only should we not go back to the way things used to be, I don’t think we can. This pandemic is going to change us all - change the way we think, plan, consume, interact, appreciate, and ultimately live day to day. These times of world-changing events must shift our perspective. As what we know falls apart, we must find it within ourselves to pull together. We have the choice to decide whether coronavirus will warp us into a more negative or positive future.

Because all the green spaces are still open, I’ve been riding my bike at the local forest preserves. What I’m seeing are less cars on the road, less pollution, less road rage, and more people outside on walks, runs, bike rides - heck I even saw a grown man riding a scooter in the woods. But it hasn’t stopped there. I see more families with their kids outside, dogs getting more walks than they’ve ever known, and those old dusty roller blades finally getting some use. On social media many of my friends are reacquainting themselves with their kitchens and baking bread and cooking from scratch. Now that some free time has opened up being laid off, not commuting, or having hours cut, we have more time to spend on health, exercise, diet, stress-relief, and family. After seeing all this, I don’t want things to go back to how they were before. I have high hopes that this intermission on what we have determined normal creates a shift in what we define as important. Health, family, and love are making a big comeback.

2. We all hold great propensity for both fear and love - we all have a choice to use either of these as a response to the good and bad that surround us

There are as many ways to handle this pandemic as there are people. We all have to use our judgement to decide what is best for ourselves and family in the bombardment of very conflicting information. Most everyone wants and means well, and it’s hard for any of us to attempt and sift through the endless news and advice - much of it generating fear within us. For most of us, this is our maiden voyage through a pandemic. So if you lost your shit a little trying to find your place in all this, cut yourself a little slack, it’s our first time. That being said, I think we all need to get to a place to find our shit too, and establish a healthy and loving position on these trying times.

Every single person has unlimited reserves of fear and love underneath their skin. We all have the choice between which of those forces we are going to respond to this hardship with. The key I have found here is to respond instead of react. The second I read an emotionally charged article or hear someone giving me the secondhand news, I need to step back and collect myself. I have decided that I do not want to add to the chaos in this situation, there is plenty of that already. By choosing to respond in love rather than fear, I can offer a voice or position of calmness in replacement of hysteria. I’ve also found that by doing my best to give love to all those around me struggling, I have become more serene about the situation as well.

While the virus itself is pretty unsettling; the panic surrounding it has exponentially added to the stress and fear. Life is full of seasons of good and bad, but if I can only respond in love when things are good, and fear when bad, then I have surrendered my serenity to circumstance. We all have been given a gift that is much more powerful than that - it’s the gift of responding instead of reacting. It’s not an easy gift to use; we must practice it, fail at it, and try again. It’s what makes us great. Love is what has made us into what we are today.

3. We need a lot less than we think we need

I was a little too late on the paper towel and toilet paper craze, so when I ventured to the store only to find barren shelves, I knew I had to learn to conserve what I had left. One thing about my manner of living that has always bothered me is the amount of waste I produce. Against my will, this was a perfect opportunity for me to find ways to use washable rags on many cleaning tasks around the house rather than paper towels. It’s not that I didn’t have the knowledge or ability to change my behavior; I would actually chalk it up to pure laziness. Out of necessity to adapt, I was forced to change, and for the better.

Following the professional advice to quarantine during this pandemic, I have been leaving the house less, driving less, and spending less money. Establishing these new habits has taken some adjusting. But when I sit down and observe my current situation, I would admit that my stress levels are lower, my life is simpler, and I need a heck of a lot less than I think. We get used to our habits and consumption, no matter how unnecessary. This has been a pleasant reminder that life doesn’t always have to be so complex, and oftentimes getting what I want, when I want it has a price to pay. Excess can equal stress.

4. We all need great leaders - there is a chance for all of us to lead in some way, big or small, to many or one. Regardless, all situations are equally important

All us civilians have looked up to the medical, public health, and political forces for advice on how to best handle the pandemic. Everyone wants to be healthy and ensure the safety of their loved ones. We all need great leaders because everyone is great at something, but no one is great at everything. To those who are the most qualified to handle difficulties of this magnitude, we should humble ourselves in our limited knowledge.

That doesn’t let us off the hook though, for we all can be leaders, no matter how small or to how few. For every word we say and every action we commit, we don’t know how far that ripple will travel. The question we should be all asking ourselves, “what kind of ripple am I sending out?” Is the ripple loaded in fear and problems, or overflowing with hope, solutions, and love? Maybe we can’t individually fix coronavirus, but we can do our best to do what is right each moment. I’m not going to tell you what that is, because we all have to step up to the plate of our own lives. The one thing I will tell you, is that being a good leader in small ways does not include being an asshole, changing someone’s mind, proving your righteousness, or being condescending. What it does include is inspiring others to be their best, encouraging others, uplifting low spirits, and fitting ourselves to be of maximum service to others (which brings me to my last point).

5. In times of inevitable fear, one of the best remedies is to help another person

When we’ve exercised every trick in the bag to maximize our own well-being, when all else fails, nothing helps our own spirit as much as helping someone else. “A rising tide raises all ships,” is one of my favorite sayings. In times of fear, it is the hardest to think of others and easy to only focus on ourselves. Which makes it the best time to get our minds out of self-centeredness and into other-centeredness. One thing I know for sure is that sinking into our own fear never solves it - it only fuels it.

By helping others, we surprise ourselves by our own strength, wisdom, and abilities - things within us that rarely come out unless we are extending ourselves to help another person. It has brought a tear to my eye the past month seeing people offer to do grocery runs, laundry, or any other errand for someone who is at risk to do those things during the quarantine. And that’s not the only way to help - we can do something as small as call an old friend or family member to catch up. I think we could all sit down right now and easily write out 5 ways we could brighten up someone’s day.

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The hardest of times show us what we are really made of. And since we are full of a lot of things, show the world that a bunch of the stuff inside you is good stuff - love stuff. And don’t just prove it to the world, prove it to yourself. I’m not pleased that we are embracing this hardship, but I am grateful we are embracing it together and all growing together out of necessity. Because in the end, we won’t want to remember how we hid; we will want to remember how we stood up to the world and did the best we could. I love all you guys/gals. Hang in there and give some love!


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