What is coming up more and more for me during this time of quarantine is:
What is a life worth?
I thought my worth was what I was producing. How busy I was. How fast I accomplished things. How much I mothered. What kind of a friend I was. How much effort I offered to my community.
Now, it’s all meaningless. This situation reminds me of how someone must feel when they retire from a high powered career and finds they are just another person. No one hangs on their word or decision. No one is impressed by them. They accomplish nothing of consequence each day. Me, personally? I’m not mothering my boys. I’ve had brief conversations with them a handful of times this month. I’m not making money, not producing anything of monetary value. I’m not “busy.” My looks, clothing, appearance? Meaningless. What can I offer at this moment? The limited love of phone conversations. Have you ever tried to love someone who is losing their capability to communicate via the telephone? Hugs don’t communicate through the wireless network. I don’t feel worthy.
The value of human life is being considered in discussions about ending the quarantine. The insinuating that someone with a weakness is “worth” less. That their time on this Earth is “worth” less. That they don’t deserve as much time because they have a weakness. That the income and financial future of the “healthy” (whatever that is) are worth more than these “weak” lives. That a dollar figure can be placed on a human’s value. That the value of “herd immunity” is worth more than the risk of the “few” that will die. People can value a fetus as a valuable life but turn around and say, let’s sacrifice the weak for the financial gain of a healthy economy? Anyone that has a disability of some sort knows what it is to be judged as “less than” based on their limitations. I’m sure knowing that others don’t value them as equal weighs on them throughout their lives enough, can you imagine how they feel hearing people discuss their death as a justified sacrifice? As dispensable?
Some people are being required to risk their lives for less pay than people working from home, those with no risk at all to their safety, are making. The fact that medical professionals on the front lines are perceived as being paid well enough to take extra risk (due to lack of supplies) because that is the job they signed on for. The list of businesses being opened first in some states. All jobs for low-wage earners because they are deemed acceptable to demonstrate the level of risk first. People who work in restaurants, taking on risk by going out to work each day...for some reason their health (and that of their families) is worth less than the value of a meal that you didn’t have to cook yourself.
“Ya, they died of Covid-19, but they were on their way out anyways.” Someone said this to me. Who gets to decide how long a person should survive? How can you justify a life cut shorter and dying a horrible death? Who’s to say how long is long enough? Consider someone with cancer. Should we stop trying to find a treatment because they will die someday anyways? Why cure cancer if it doesn’t matter? Why go to the doctor or the dentist for preventative care if we will die someday anyway? Who deserves a long life? What makes that person more worthy?
As I watch my loved one lose more and more of herself and her life, and I weigh the value of each day for her...what is life if you are not fully living? Is it worth living if it only brings comfort to the people around you? What about when it causes more pain to them than joy, watching you lose so much and struggle each day? When they hold on to you because they can’t let go of the person you were? What is each day on Earth worth then? Are those days worth living? If you can’t make these decisions, who should get to make them for you? Who gets to decide how long you fight and how long you live? Is she still grateful for each day, when communication is a constant struggle and her mind endlessly loops on the same few topics over and over? Each day to watch her loved ones mourn her while she still lives?
What is a life worth?
The answer I have found? In my quest to break down societal norms and let go of faulty learned beliefs, I have had to shed the notions of what, in society, makes you worthy. Being likeable, achieving traditional models of success, the acceptable gender roles we are required to play, sexiness, beauty, the external measurements of worth, people-pleasing, being the martyr, playing “nice,” being “strong,” staying cheery, no one likes a downer, don’t forget to smile. I have been supported within a group of women, all struggling with their own sense of worthiness. They have been crushed under the weight of unrealistic expectations that kept them from feeling loved and now they can’t even love themselves. What is left when you no longer feel value even within yourself? I have learned so much from them about self-worth. That it stands alone...independent. This understanding of worth has only deepened during this time of quarantine. Worth is not success, not how much money you make. It isn’t in appearance or possessions, not accomplishments, not job title, not your role as she or he, parent or spouse, and most of all, the worth of a being is certainly not for someone else to decide.
We are each worthy because we exist. I offer up my soul to your soul. I serve when I’m needed. I suffer. I feel. I rise to the occasion. I do hard things. I take brave leaps. I try my hardest to do the right thing. I think before I act. I seek. I love. I delight, enjoy, notice, and remember. Every creature is worthy. Whether you know someone with a predisposed condition or not, it’s about every human having value. Every living thing has value and we all matter.
Yes, there is a balancing act, between all of the beings that are worthy. A woman, a fetus, a person with medical risk factors, someone who is out of work and at the end of their rope, the animals that live in a forest, the man that needs to cut it down to earn money to feed his family. Society, nature, industry, technology, third world, first world, all vying for survival and a future. All worthy. Yes, I see the struggle in that and I understand the challenges. However, from where I sit, when you strip it all down, there is no question in my mind that to exist is to be worthy. I hope we can find a way forward and still honor that.