I’m not sick and I hope the dreaded coronavirus (or any other disease) is not currently taking up residence inside your body. I’m not enjoying this particular period of time in American history for many reasons.
But there’s another way to look at all of this. It’s as if the whole world all at once was given a trial run for our last bit of time on Earth. That we all have a terminal illness and now we have to decide how to spend our last days, weeks, months of remaining time. Money isn’t going to help us much (because we can’t go anywhere), but how we live out our last hours given notice says a lot about us as a human race.
I don’t find anything I do in these moments especially commendable. I may support or not support the efforts of our state and federal governments, individuals in health care, and all the essential business people still going to work, but have I done anything more than paying my taxes to help them get things done? No, I have to say.
Maybe I get a bit of a pass as I did work as a scientist for years studying the human genetics of a deadly disease, malignant brain tumors. The kind that bring the hammer down on people in the prime of their lives. The pay was never requisite with the hours I gave. And I worked for one grumpy neuropathologist who I thought could have been a little less grumpy and more grateful about his position in life given that his job was to diagnose terminal illness on a daily basis at a major medical center.
It was not the case. Many days, experiments just didn’t work. Or ideas failed spectacularly. These to me were minor obstacles compared to what brain tumor patients and their families faced. So I had a positive attitude towards my career in the years that I did work in that field. I felt I came alive when I discovered how little was known about human brain tumors. I figured out my way to make a small but unique contribution to the world. I felt even more alive when I was given the chance to work on a dream project of mine in Norway, where I lived for seven years.
I lived all across the USA to do that job. I even lived in another country. Each time I had to assess what was necessary. What was most important to me to hang on to and to do. I know I burned some bridges. There’s always some loss, but I had to do what my heart was telling me to do. Each time I did that, the results were spectacular.
It was also usually in those moments that resistance was the greatest. It didn’t matter because I was going to do it anyway.
Now we find ourselves at this critical juncture in modern civilization. Perhaps my life is going on as it has for the last several years, working from home, editing science papers, trying to write about it and life in general.
And choosing art projects as a way to spend my free time.
I’ve always done art. Not because I’m good at it. Because it helps me to relax. You achieve flow when you are doing art science says. There are certain things you can do to take your mind off your work and something magic happens: Your mind starts to work. I once solved a big problem in the lab while I was knitting a sweater on a Sunday afternoon. Not only did I solve the problem, but the lab discovered a whole new phenomenon that only found its time years later when the technology caught up with the next obvious question to ask.
So I’m missing my walks out on the beach, but I feel like I’ve been given a permission slip. This lockdown is a gigantic permission slip to get busy with living out some of our dreams. Ok, travel is out and I’m sorry about that. I’ve seen a lot of places, not nearly enough, but the more you do, the more you want to do. That’s just how it works.
But without those choices in the mix, this situation makes it even easier for me to focus on the few things that keep bothering me that I haven’t done yet. I feel I need to keep working at my dream projects because when will we ever hit the bottom like this again? While some people are working harder than ever on their current trajectory, I’m looking in a possible different direction.
Let’s face it, this lockdown is a giant experiment that every government in the world is trying on their people. We don’t know how this is going to work out. We don’t know if what we did helped. In fact, no one even knows for sure that what we have done didn’t make things worse.
But that’s not what this is about. I’ve heard that people talk about the things they didn’t do in their remaining moments of life. There are a few of those for me. Things I can’t change as time progresses. At the same time, life has given me chances again and again. I wonder sometimes why it’s me who gets to make mistakes and then who gets the do over.
That’s how I see this pandemic. As another chance for a do over. That’s how I’m spending my time. I’m writing a book although I’m not sure it will ever be good enough to publish. The experience has been cathartic though giving me a reason for understanding some of the major events of my life. Why I might have suffered. Why I felt such happiness. Why I know what I know about America no matter who is president of the USA.
You have time to do a do over. Clearly many of us are spending more time than is probably good for us on social media alone. My computer is even warning me of how much more time I spend online than the week before. I go on like everyone else because I want to know what are people doing out there. How are my friends? What’s happening in some of the rural areas of the world I have visited? But much of the news feed is filled with stories that are not solution based. It’s armchair opinion. Anger. Fear of what we don’t know.
But I’m on social media to show off in a way. It’s marketing! I tell myself. I have to publicize the fact that I’m open for business. And as a scientist, I feel I should try to guide people to scientific based information now when it’s needed most. There’s no politician or journalist who is always going to get it right. The pandemic is a moving, changing target even for scientists. It’s science in real time. Science on demand.
But my number one job now is to stay off the streets. So I’m confined to a small apartment with a few tools and my imagination. I’m not inventing anything that’s going to change the world for sure. Or creating another Picasso. I’m exploring.
It’s the something I’ve been doing for the last several years. And for now, I get to hide out and do a few more experiments.
As a healthy person not in the health care sector, or any essential business, that’s the way I see it. If you’re not taking advantage of the lockdown, getting the do over, get busy before it’s over.
©Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com
Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.