The credit card agent’s voice came over the line, with her prepared greeting. Her tone was warm and friendly, with a lilt that pointed to somewhere in Asia. Outsourcing customer service is more common these days. In truth, I love hearing different accents. It reminds me of places half a world away that are close to my heart.
I explained my situation — an extra charge on my card that I wanted to have removed — and she moved through the process efficiently, making small talk. In the background, I heard sounds. In the past, when I’ve spoken with various overseas representatives, I’d hear the hum of voices, indicative of bustling call centers. This time, as she fixed my billing issue, I could hear a sound I know well: high pitched beep beeeeeps of small motorbikes, a popular mode of transportation in other parts of the world.
And it struck me. This woman helping me was likely sitting in her home, as I was. Gone are the bustling call centers, at least for now. As COVID continues to prey on various populations around the world, to varying degrees, she was yet another person trying to make a living, while navigating a global pandemic.
A hard year
This year has been unimaginably hard, in just about every way possible. And some seemingly impossible ways. In the midst of it, we’ve had to deal with loss, grief, hardship, disappointment and anger. And none of it is in half measures. I would wager that here, in the U.S., we won’t have a true measure of that cost for a while. We’re taught to be tough, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and power through it, but when the hits come from all angles, without stopping, for almost every single person, in one way or another? I don’t know about you, but I’m giving myself grace for extra exhaustion at times or a feeling of disorientation over recent months.
I’ve seen the cynical memes on social media, lamenting the fact that we’re not talking about suicide deaths or car accidents, but we’re talking about COVID. It’s the same flimsy logic that I’ve seen used in relation to racial issues. Why not this thing or that thing too? One does not negate the other. It never has, and posting snarky memes doesn’t prove anything other than the fact that meme makers have had plenty of material from all sides.
The Washington Post Magazine ran a story, “How to grieve during a pandemic,” published Dec. 7. It puts some of the grief felt by those who have lost loved ones to COVID in perspective:
“The mental health consequences of so much sudden death in so short a time could be dire. Based on age patterns in the pandemic’s spread and kinship networks in the United States, a team of sociologists writing in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that nine people will experience the loss of a close relative — defined as a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse or child — for each COVID-19 death.
This ‘COVID-19 bereavement multiplier’ suggests that as many as 2.5 million Americans are mourning the deaths of the 281,000 people the coronavirus has killed … And yet there have been few formal acknowledgments of the lives lost and of the anguish of those left behind … mourners told me they felt half the country treated their losses as no big deal, while the other half reduced them to a partisan talking point.”
One thing does not negate the other. Grief is grief, and we have a lot of it right now.
Recently, I chatted with an Australian friend, who checks in to make sure the U.S. is still around, considering the often befuddling news circulating these days. His corner of Australia recently shut down for a few days, because they had 15 cases of COVID, after months of none. Everyone hunkered down, hard core. I told him that, at the time, Ohio had just clocked more than 8,000 cases in 24 hours.
Sure, I could talk about the vast difference in how other countries have dealt with the pandemic. Regardless, I appreciate hearing from other parts of the globe. Whether it be an update from a friend in Australia, or the distant blaring motorbikes coloring the background of a customer service call somewhere in Asia, there is a sense of bewildered camaraderie.
I’m not one to put unrealistic expectations on the coming year, but I am thankful for the perspective. For me, at least, it helps keep me grounded.
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