Skip to content

Letter: We can get through this

‘If there is one thing my life has taught me it’s that when we dive headlong into our suffering, we find greater strength and hope on the other side’
typewriter pexels-cottonbro-3945337 (From Pexels by Cottonbro)

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. None of us were raised for this world. 

I recall an impassioned speech, by someone whose identity I never knew, that circulated in the aftermath of 9/11. To my patchy memory, it was something like, “This wasn’t the world we were supposed to live in, where my family and career are all that matters.” 

The attacks of 9/11 were the first great rupture in the post-historical worldview that I was raised in as a child born in the 1980s. As we all know, it would not be the last. 

We spent the past two years watching freedoms and assumptions about the nature of our society and the people around us crumble before our very eyes. We adapted to each crack, each new breach, with grim determination and the belief that this adaptation, this trauma, would be it.

And yet, month after month, whether owing to the vagaries of viral mutation, the ineptitude of governments or the cravenness of elites, we watched more and more of the foundation upon which all of our hopes, dreams and assumptions about the world fall out from under us. 

We survived. We struggled. We argued and we fought and we disagreed and we allowed agonizing divisions to set deep chasms within our very families, chasms that despite the end of the pandemic continue to weep and fester today.

We found ourselves tasting freedom once again, able to hug loved ones and board a train and see our colleagues. And then we became poor. The things we were barred from doing by government decree and social censure grow out of reach once again because of the soaring cost of living.

A cruel joke that the end of the pandemic’s strictures only brought about a new and in some ways more crushing prohibition on enjoying the kind of lives we have come to expect in our various ways. We traded case counts for inflation figures, subvariants for interest rates. 

After two long hard years at the end of which we would have every reason to erupt in a celebration of joy and self-abandon, we are forced to once again gird our loins for struggle and privation. 

We, the children of Western post-war peace and prosperity, where our biggest stress was getting into the right school, getting the right job, finding the right partner, were not prepared for this world.

And so we suffer. We feel harassed in our hearts by ever-present threats that we can’t name and can’t confront, but which rob us of our peace, steal our focus, disrupt our sleep and infest our dreams. We are in the midst of a silent mental health crisis whose only solution is for each of us to acknowledge in our hearts and to our friends and family the obvious truth of post-2020 life: we are not okay.

I served on the frontest of front lines during the pandemic as an advanced care paramedic. I came home not to a safe haven of comfort and security, somewhere I could find rest and stability, but to yet another front.

A wife struggling to balance the needs of a young child experiencing their first awakening of self-awareness in a socially isolated, under-stimulating world defined largely by four walls and a roof with those of an older child struggling with having her first steps into independence and social accession through school cut brutally short. 

A youngest child who had no way to understand or communicate what she was experiencing, but knew in the deepest primal source of her being that something was terribly wrong, who became angry beyond her years. 

An oldest child wracked with anxiety at the endless lack of certainty and control, and endlessly frustrated by the need to stare at a screen all day for “education”. 

A mother-in-law whose ability to parse information was eviscerated by social media algorithms that found a weakness in her mind and tore it apart with endless self-contradictory conspiracies.

It was awful. We cried. We yelled. We numbed ourselves with television and the intoxicating substances that are both available and socially acceptable. Our hearts wept, but our minds knew there was nothing to be done but carry on. We knew we were not okay, but we had no choice but to grit our teeth and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Doing so became a way of life.

Today, we emerge from that time to take stock of ourselves, and to tend to the wounds that continue to bleed from every traumatized place in our hearts and minds. We have awoken to a world that is not okay, and to the reality that we are most definitely not okay. 

It is time for all of us to drop the facade. I wake up every morning unsure of my ongoing ability to feed my family, ashamed at my inability to keep up with the cost of living, frustrated that no matter what luxuries I cut away from our life, from eating out, to enjoying beer, to taking our kids out for activities, it never seems to be enough. 

I rage at the perpetual sense of failure that this world engenders, and the endless shame that is that failure’s constant companion. And yet, in acknowledging this fact, embracing that brokenness, I am finding hidden sources of strength and resilience.

Look inside yourselves and touch your pain. Stop burying it under mutual political condemnation in facebook tirades, in endless Netflix binges, in too many drinks, too much poor quality food, self-righteous arguments and criticisms, overwork and endless worry. 

Be with your pain, be with your fear, embrace the uncertainty. Tell your neighbours and your friends that you are failing, that it is too hard, that you are unsure of the future. Give them the space to do the same. Find fellowship in suffering and vulnerability. 

If there is one thing my life has taught me it’s that when we dive headlong into our suffering, we find greater strength and hope on the other side. It is time for all of us to drop the illusion of a consumer culture where we all wear the mask of success and happiness, and embrace a life of uncertainty and want, so that we can be more united in our suffering than we ever could be in our prosperity.

For us to do so as a society is not only necessary for each of our individual well being, but it is absolutely critical for our ability to rise to the occasion as a community. I wish I could say that the worst is behind us. It most certainly is not. I wish I could say there was an easy solution. There is not. I wish more than anything that I could say that our political leaders are going to save us. They are not. As someone who aspires to fulfill such a role I will openly admit that I am just as broken and scared as the rest of you, and do not have all the answers. But I believe that if each of us can come to terms with our suffering, if we can wear it openly and discuss it with our friends and family, to give ourselves space to be less than perfect, we can transmute that pain into effective action and something that ceases to divide us in fear and mutual mistrust but to unite us in sisterhood and brotherhood of those who weep and bleed but are determined to fight for a better world. 

This is not the world we were raised to confront. But we are not alone in our suffering, and if we can come together in these darkest of times, we will in time find that not only are we up to the challenge, but in rising to the occasion we fulfill needs that have laid dormant so long we forgot that they even were. 

Charles Humphrey