El Brote de COVID-19: Un Momento Único en la Historia

The COVID-19 Outbreak: A Unique Moment in History

Dear Readers:

Today, greeting you from Canada, I feel deeply struck by the contrasts between our predictable rhythms of life and nature with the sudden and unexpected interruptions that we are experiencing globally.  From the back room of my house, I look outside to a cool and promising Spring day.  The buds of cherry blossoms on the tree outside my window are faithfully preparing to bloom.  The outdoor air is chilly, but when the sun comes out from behind a cloud, the warmth of Spring is detectable.  I greet our readers in the Southern Hemisphere who are experiencing the opposite change of season, from Summer into Fall, where I imagine you may also experience some comfort in the normalcy of the changing seasons.    

When I look outside my front door onto the street, however, I see a situation that is far from normal.  The streets in my small town are almost completely empty.  Stores and restaurants have been shuttered indefinitely.  There are no cars.  Very few people can be seen walking.  When people do come close to meeting each other on the street, they carefully cross to the opposite sides in order to maintain adequate “social distancing” between them.  My children are home from school and all of my personal interactions with colleagues, clients, students, friends, and extended family members, are now taking place from within the four walls of my home via phone and video conferencing.  Just a few weeks ago, these same businesses were bustling.  People were waiting outside to get tables at overflowing restaurants, stores were busy with customers, walkers congregated and talked with each other, and parking was scarce.  My own family life was busy with each of us coming and going so often that we sometimes barely saw each other during waking hours. 

On March 11 of this year, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.  Even in our connected globalized world, most of us who were not in China watched this outbreak unfold from a seeming distance.  We knew that there was a possibility that it could touch our communities more directly, but we hoped for the best.  During the time in which the path of the outbreak was yet uncertain, we clung to a sense of normalcy.  At this time, the very first cases were being identified in different countries, and small outbreaks generally seemed to be contained.  Then it became increasingly obvious that COVID-19 would profoundly impact our lives and our ways of being for an indeterminate future.  New epicentres of the outbreak appeared throughout the world.  What started in most places as an abrupt and seemingly temporary public health directive to remain home except for essential activities is now becoming a “new normal” of self-isolation and physical distancing for the foreseeable months ahead.  Together we are finding ways to adapt our lifestyles to minimize suffering and loss of life due to COVID-19.

For the past year, the Existential Analysis Society of Canada has been preparing to host an inaugural conference of Existential Analysis in Canada.  Our primary aim has been to bring together our local society into meaningful dialogue along with each other and with colleagues from other countries from North and South America and around the world.  Our conference theme was “Becoming a Community of Practice.”  With this theme, we identified the values of gathering together for ongoing dialogue in community, and cultivating practical ways for Existential Analysis (EA) to transform our personal and professional lives.  Due to the pandemic, we made the difficult and unavoidable decision to postpone our inaugural conference until the following year, May 14-15, 2021.  We remain hopeful that many of you will be able to join us then.  In the meantime, I am left reflecting on these conference values – of community and of practical application – and how we might live them out in the constraints of our “new normal” lifestyles.  

A common saying that I hear a lot these days is “we are all in this together.”  In many ways, this is so obviously true.  We stand on the same ground of this reality and together we are forced to submit to the constraints it places on us.  Indeed, the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate about whose body it invades, and we are all deeply concerned about protecting the health and wellbeing of our families and loved ones, especially those who may be particularly vulnerable.  Yet, I can’t also help but be aware of the limits of sentimental solidarity.  The social and economic impact of COVID-19 does discriminate against those who cannot work from home via videoconferencing, those without secure housing, those with overcrowded housing, and those who rely exclusively on public transportation for essential activities of life, just to name a few.  Many people are suddenly abandoned without employment and income security.  For others, their only employment or housing situation forces them to be potentially exposed to the virus.  The ability to say “yes” to the question of the first Fundamental Motivation (FM) in EA, Can I be?, is suddenly disrupted by the loss of space, protection, and support. 

The paradox of being “in this together” while being forced to be “socially distanced” is significant.  While our sense of common context and purpose may give us some orientation in relation to FM 4, the social isolation required in this situation is itself disorienting or far worse.  We are asked to stay home alone and to avoid each other in public places.  Those of us who normally show hospitality to patients in the comfort of physical offices are now only able to connect virtually.  People who live alone, especially, are cut off from the warmth, closeness, and normal rhythm of human connections, disrupting the prerequisites for the 2nd FM; in the collective focus on our global crisis, others may be experiencing a loss of attention, justice and appreciation in their uniqueness, disrupting the prerequisites for FM 3. 

It is easy to acknowledge that the impact of the current pandemic is overwhelming and touches all four FMs directly.  However, the purpose of this brief editorial is not to provide a thorough analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of EA.  Instead, I return the values of community and practice that we hoped to reflect on in our May conference.  We do indeed need each other right now.  As I notice how “odd” our ways of being need to be right now, I grieve the limits of physical embodied expression of care for each other.  Where we would normally share hospitality over a meal or dialogue in person, we instead show each other respect by maintaining physical distance.  But more than ever, we need expressions of love, kindness, and empathy to be expressed in novel ways.  While the pandemic of COVID-19 separates us in some ways, it can also give us shared context for reflection about what is valuable and important in this life. 

For me, I am acutely aware of the importance of love in my life.  I am grateful to each person who has touched me and made my life richer by their presence, and I hope to be able to convey my love and care for others, not just in spite of, but especially during the limitations of this pandemic.  Let us not lose the vibrancy of dialogue through this and the coming issues of Existencia, and let us cherish the contributions of our colleagues through this unique forum of connection in our global EA community. 

Dr. Janelle Kwee, Psy.D.

Registered Psychologist (R.Psych., BC)
Existential Analysis Society of Canada
Trinity Western University 


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Diálogo Existencial - Existential Dialogue
Nº 29 - 2019