The home exercise bike makes a clicking sound every twentieth rotation. My noise canceling headphones block out all the sounds, but my foot feels the metronomic clank, clank. Not enough to stop riding, or fix the bike (heaven forbid), but enough to make me think about getting off the bike to look at my pedal.
Seven fifteen in the morning. I remember when the sun wasn’t out, at this time, but the mornings are gradually brighter every day. I turn right to look out of the bay window where my exercise bike is housed. I live by the water, so close that I taste salt when I open my windows. Meniscus on the horizon throwing me off balance, while calming my heart. Reflections from the water are blinding. The fog sinks onto the topsoil. My heart hurts and the tightness in my chest lingers longer than I’d prefer. Work is starting soon and I’m mentally preparing for another day of stressful conversations and meetings that could have been emails.
After thirty minutes on the exercise bike, a shower, a protein bar, and a coffee, I’m ready to open my computer. As per usual, about 100+ emails flood my inbox; most are discarded, and I read a handful of emails. I quickly devour the protein bar, sip my coffee, clap my hands, and I am ready to start my first Zoom of the day, at 830am. I am on zoom for the next 10 hours straight, with a couple bathroom breaks and hurried lunch in the middle. At 630, I start answering the emails I missed from earlier that day, and finish doing that by 8pm or 830pm. This is my every day.
One may find this unbelievable, but I am not alone with this work schedule. Covid-19 has forced us into our homes and closed our offices, schools, playgrounds, movie theaters, and even our parks briefly. This made many of think we could accomplish more without having to account for commute time to work, to lunch, or to meetings. The result is many of us filled our calendars and forgot to allow room to breathe, eat, and just plain live. We unwind the day by watching mindless tv, reading mindless books, and getting mindlessly inebriated. Anything to dull the thought of having to do this the very next day. I am so tired of doing this every day.
At least, I thought I was.
Recently, with more and more people getting vaccinated, society is opening up and on the road of ‘returning to normal.’ Those that are vaccinated are no longer required to masks in public. Indoor dining capacity has increased, and a larger number of people are able to eat inside. Organizations and businesses have developed plans to get employees back to the office. While this seems like a good thing for everyone, I can’t help but think of where we were at this same time last year. Agitators rioting in the streets, disturbing our great republic. Violence and conflict. Anger bubbling under the surface of every Facebook post. My heart rate quickens as I write this, and a sense of despair grows. I know, in my brain, that I shouldn’t have to be worried, but I cannot help it. Even though I am a homeowner, in safe neighborhood, and that I am the new CEO of a small business and can control when my employees return to work, which puts me in a very, very privileged position, this feeling inside of me will not go away.
I feel like this world is getting more and more divided, and this is the same feeling I had in 2014, after Eric Garner and Mike Brown were, unfortunately, killed by police officers. I was living in NYC, at the time, and the vitriol directed at people that look like me was shocking. Just walking down the street in certain neighborhoods felt like I was living in a different world. I have lived in Brooklyn most of my life and knew that some neighborhoods were out of bounds for me because of my race, but I feel like after the election of Barack Obama, a greater chasm grew between people. We were no longer a United States. Everything became either Black or White. I saw less of myself reflected on television and in movies, and then those characters were always shone in a negative light.
Also in 2014, another group was founded with the acronym, BLM (I can’t get myself to write the whole name), and we saw the division increase. More horror brought to my doorstep, and the doorsteps of people that look like me. There was a growing consensus of people that were unhappy with the direction of our country. In 2016, we elected Donald Trump, who promised to Make America Great Again, even when his detractors asked, “when was America ever great?” On Inauguration Day 2017, I moved to Seattle where I thought I would find more commonality, compared to the polarity that I experienced in NYC.
Oooh, I was wrong. I found more polarization, and was overwhelmed with such extreme binary thinking, where there is only black and white, right and wrong, one side or the other. From the banality of the Stormy Daniels scandal to the seriousness of domestic terrorists dividing us into racial groups, harassing, rioting, and even killing everyday citizens, it felt like our union could never be perfect.
In 2017, when protesters in Charlottesville led to the death of one person and 34 injured, it felt like a match was lit, igniting the ire of domestic terrorists to bring about anarchy. The death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville was just one of the thirty-seven people killed by domestic terrorists in 2017. In 2018, that number rose to 50. Though 2019 had less death due to domestic terrorists, there was an increase in hate crimes, particularly arson attacks on churches in the US South.
The days turned into months into years. The chasm expanded and it felt like no corner was untouched. Even at my previous organization, the staff that felt like I wasn’t doing enough, left the organization. Many of those staff that left, didn’t look like me, and I often wonder the role that played in their decision. What about my own identity was so upsetting to them? My heart hurt even more, and I began to experience anxiety and depression.
Then in early 2020, coronavirus quickly dominated the USA, and we were forced to stay home, limiting our exposure with other people and other communities. The number of people dying from COVID-19 climbed daily, while we all tried to make sense of this new world. At first, it was the bane of my existence, and then I realized how safe I felt, how I didn’t have to worry every time I left the house. My heart began to soften and expand, much like my waistline, but I was safe! It was worth it. My staff were able to work remotely, and though stressful, our business grew. For the first time in years, the whole world was working together to stay safe, help one another, and combat this virus. That is until George Floyd was killed on May 25th, 2020. That was a catalyst to launch us into a summer of dread and confusion. We learned more about how Breonna Taylor was killed by police officers, during a botched police raid on her apartment. We learned how Black and Brown people were disproportionately killed by covid, due to several factors. The White House administration began to turn the attention away from these instances, and towards ‘returning to normal.’ Masks were tossed aside as deniers went outside to reclaim their ‘freedom.’ There was an attempt to kidnap the Governor of Michigan, for upholding covid restrictions. Activists took the street to protest the murder of Black people by the police. They were met with violence and murder. The same people that screamed BLM, were also some of the same people that stormed our Capitol on January 6th, 2021 attacking police officers and even killing Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. Domestic terrorism threatened the sanctity of our country, and we are still struggling to tame a virus that has killed more than 500,000 people, in the US alone. Yet, the CDC states we can start returning to normal activities and resume our lives? Maybe the CDC doesn’t understand that ‘normal’ has never been safe.
During the quarantine, I didn’t have to leave the house, except to get groceries. I was less worried about being pulled over on my one-mile drive to the grocery store. My daughters were learning at home, and my wife and I had a better idea about what they were learning in school. I moved to another organization last November. Sadly, like much of the world, some of my family members have passed on during the past 18 months, yet I also knew my remaining friends and family, across the world, were safe at home. Life wasn’t easy at all, and still, we realized how privileged we were to be secure in these circumstances. Even with the family loss we experienced, we knew we were very lucky; an airborne virus was plaguing the globe, taking away lives and livelihoods. However, there was a feeling at safety in our everyday. My daily meetings were conducted from the comfort of my home, and I knew I didn’t have to worry about feeling ’othered’ in my home. I didn’t have to worry about the casual micro aggressions of (mostly white, mostly female) donors touching me inappropriately, or people (of all identities) looking past me to find the CEO when meeting for the first time. My name and pronouns were below my face, and I could bask in that feeling of just being me.
I am afraid to lose that feeling and I am afraid to relinquish that safety. It was something I didn’t know was missing until I experienced it. I used to wake up looking forward to another day. Now I am once again afraid my next day, will be my last.