My son is recovering from COVID-19. He got it from the restaurant he worked in.
Although some customers wore masks, many didn’t. Some believed that the pandemic was a hoax. Others that it was real, but they were tired of following all the new procedures and safety protocols. They just wanted to get back to their normal, ‘regular’ life. They had, what they called, ‘mask fatigue’.
Turn on the news, scroll through social media and you can read all about it. Mask fatigue. Lockdown fatigue. Zoom fatigue. Pandemic fatigue. Fatigue has become the hot new buzzword to describe anything that people, after a few days, weeks or months, have simply lost patience with doing because it seems inconvenient or more difficult for them than the way things were ‘before’.
Fatigue. Personally, I’m sick of the word.
COVID and the “fatigue” it brings makes me wonder when we, as a society, as a country, lost the ability to do difficult things for more than two minutes without complaining about them. Because truth is that hard work and the discipline of continued practice day in and day out make you tired, but it also builds strength.
I have a friend in his sixties who runs a half-marathon every year. He trains for months. Starts out running a little a day until, just before the race, he can run those 13.2 miles no problem. Is he tired after each training session? Of course, but the discipline of running a little more each day builds stamina to keep practicing. And the strength to run a little longer and then, again, a little longer.
So, what’s the cure for the ‘fatigue’ that so many are feeling?
Deliberately practicing kindness. Day in and day out. So that we build strength and stamina to do the things that are best, not just for us, but for others around us too. Even if they are, at first, uncomfortable. Like wearing a mask.
Let me explain. Once, my marathon-running friend and I were invited to a meeting. It was on the sixteenth floor. “Let’s walk up the stairs”, he said. “Good exercise.” Of course, since I’m not a marathon-runner (or any kind of runner at all), by the fifth floor, I was huffing and puffing. By the eight floor I was in serious trouble. “I’m too tired to keep going”, I said. “Start counting steps”, he suggested. “Look for each light switch, and number on each door to tell you what floor it is. When you’re tired, in pain, and feel like you just can’t keep going, focus on something outside of yourself. Then you will feel better.” So, I did. And I made it up all sixteen flights. Tired. But not fatigued.
We can use the same strategy to help us during COVID-19.
When we’re tired and feel like we just can’t keep going, instead of focusing inwardly on ourselves and our pain, we can focus outside, on how we can practice kindness to help others.
Every time we go out, we can put on a mask. When it feels uncomfortable, instead of focusing on our own discomfort, our own feelings, we can think about how we’re protecting someone else’s son, daughter, sister, brother, mother or father from COVID.
Each day we put on our mask, focus on others, and wear it for a little longer, we’ll build up our stamina and strength. Until one day we won’t even notice we have a mask on.
Because as I learned from my friend’s sage and kind advice, while trying to climb sixteen flights of stairs, focusing outside of ourselves makes doing tough things easier. And it makes the world a kinder, better place for all of us.