The significance of what was happening didn’t really hit me until one of my caregivers got an email. He was here working a shift for me and he and I were going through my night routine one evening over Spring Break. He had been working a whole lot of hours because my other caregivers were gone. He looked at his phone and then looked at me. “I don’t want you to worry about this, Lorraine, we are going to work it out,” he said as he looked me directly in the eyes. “Because of Covid 19, KU is switching to all online classes for the rest of the semester.” Slowly the reality began to sink in. All my caregivers are college students. If dorms were closing and they had to move back home, that meant that the majority of them could no longer work for me. My team of four caregivers quickly dwindled to one.
Over the next few days, all the speaking gigs that I had scheduled were canceled. Then my doctor suggested that I stay at home as much as possible because we just aren’t sure how much my immune system might be compromised. And a whole lot of things suddenly moved online that weren’t there before. The world had to make adjustments in order to stay safe and flatten the curve, and as far as I can tell, as difficult as that was, most people are navigating through it the best that they can.
Given where I am in my journey, I can’t really imagine what it would be like to work virtually if you are used to commuting to an office, or having kids home from school while trying to get some work done. And my hat goes off to everyone I know who have had challenges like that during this pandemic and figured out a way to make them work.
The most challenging part of this situation for me is a little different. I am struggling with the fact that my life didn’t change all that much. Before the current situation in the world came to be, I worked from home. Because I don’t drive, I don’t go out that much. And because most people that I know are extraordinarily busy, not many came to visit. Therefore, loneliness and discouragement are pretty common feelings during my day, not going to lie. Eventually, things are going to return to the way they once were. Restaurants on Mass street will open again and the KU campus will be bustling with activity. But will my experience change significantly? It’s hard to say at this point. One of my fears is that life as I know it will all stay just as it is now. But there is a silver lining.
When my book “More the Same than Different: What I Wish People Knew About Respecting and Including People with Disabilities came out a couple of years ago, one of the things I hoped it would do was help people to understand some of my experiences as a woman with a disability. If there is a bright side to the stay at home order in my community put in place because of the Coronavirus, I think that might be it. Everyone that I know is lonely and missing people in their lives. Everyone is going a little bit stir-crazy. Everyone is struggling to stay motivated and everyone is craving connection. Everyone could use a hug. Those are all things that I go through all the time.
One of the things I think this situation has done is level the playing field. Right now, everyone in society is experiencing similar things. Several people I know are wondering what this situation will mean financially for them personally and for the country as a whole. Other people I know are wondering what the long term changes in society will be as a result of this pandemic. Those are common concerns that I have heard from a variety of people. That means most of us can relate to each other in ways we previously did not. On some level, we can say, “Yeah, I understand exactly how you feel. This whole thing is hard and some parts of it hurt and I can’t wait for it to all be over…”
My hope for the future is that commonality is what will remain. That none of us lose the compassion that this virus has brought about and that the commonalities that we share continue to connect us long after this crisis is over.
Because now more than ever, I believe that we are truly More the Same than Different. And that silver linings are always waiting to be found.