Washing Your Hands and Getting a Grip

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Look at the sky. Lake Merritt, Oakland.  (Pendarvis Harshaw)

It was two weeks ago when I watched a sunset turn the heavens into an ill magenta-sorbet over Lake Merritt. As people gathered along the eastern shore of the 150-year-old man-made jewel of a lagoon to snap shots on their phones, I had no idea it'd be the last gathering I attended before the great social distancing of 2020 started.

Since then, I've been on my couch, lost. I can't even tell you which way the sky is. So many questions: How can the government expect us to listen after lying to us for so long? How can they ask us to shelter in place without making testing available? What more can I do in my work as a journalist? Can you freeze rent nationwide? Why wasn't Jordan scrutinized for playing with the flu in the '97 finals? Why are people buying so much toilet paper? How do I protect a three-year-old from germs? Why am I here?

Amidst all this uncertainty there's one thing that's for damn sure: the rat race has paused, momentarily. At least for a significant portion of the population.

With healthcare workers, service providers and other essential employees patrolling the front lines in the war against the coronavirus, most of us are trying to do nothing, told to stay inside. The biggest request of us is that we rid our palms of any filth the world has brought upon us. Take your time and wash your hands.

A perfect opportunity to think about the purpose of life.

For me, it starts with a lil' bit of anxiety slipping into the red wine I drink at 3am. The witching hour is also when I clean the dishes, sweep the floors and simultaneously absorb the news from the day before.

So many reports stick with me: The saga of Patient 31—a close look at COVID-19 spread in South Korea. The nurses in Oakland who have to reuse their masks and other medical gear. The predictions of hundreds of thousands of deaths that might occur around the world. The preventative measures taken by places like Santa Rita County Jail, which recently released a couple hundred non-violent offenders. And the sobering truth that simply by their design, prisons will still be hit hard by the coronvirus' spread.

The other night, I took a break from checking the CDC's site to Google “Can you die from reading too much?”

And then I stepped away. It’s not fair to make myself sicker during this time. This is about preventing, and if possible, purging illnesses. I want to look back at this period and remember how I finally got my shit together, ya know? I don't know about y'all, but I've got some pains and problems that aren't big enough to stop me, but I feel 'em, daily. And I never really had the time to address 'em, until now.

My problems?

Being an overachiever, because being black and broke made me feel inferior. Being an overly focused father, because I fear following my pop's path. Carrying inner misogyny, because my mindset was made in the USA. Being easily distracted, because I don't always believe in myself.

There's more, but those are the ones that come to mind.

How do I address 'em? Do the heavy lift: pick up the phone and have the hard conversations. Wield a pen and write. Hold the hand mirror and reflect. Clutch a cup of some tea, lift a lighter to some candles and turn up some tunes from Miles.


Don't get me wrong, I've also katted off on Twitter and Instagram. Gigged to D-Nice's IG Live, vibed to DJ Mujie's IG feed and nodded as Drew Banga made beats.

I've watched marble racing, the live cameras at the San Diego Zoo and old athletic highlight reels (Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker was a defensive boxing beast).

I unfortunately found myself watching—this is embarrassing—America's Funniest Home Videos. But the mindless content is just a counterbalance for the heavier lifting.

Take the third episode of professor Jason Seals' podcast, A Moment of Truth. It features a conversation with an assistant professor in SF State's Department of Africana Studies, Dr. Ifetayo Flannery. The 40-minute segment hinges on a few key points, like how African psychology isn't about studying the mind, but studying the spirit. How the words "know thyself" mean more than just knowing who you are, but essentially, where you stand in the universe.

And one idea that sticks with me, given what we're all experiencing—even though Seals recorded this episode almost a year ago—is that a key component of optimal living is developing your own worldview, and not just adhering to others.

In order to develop that view, to truly know yourself and study your spirit, you need to spend some time alone.

Social Distance
Social Distance. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

I'm one of those people who work a lot but never work on themselves. That's evidenced by the fact my hands are seemingly permanently hard and ashy (and that was before the exuberant amount of hand-washing of late). Definitely not bragging. Just showing y'all: I don't take time to take care of myself, I'm too busy trying to keep pace in this everlasting rat race.

And it's not even real. You see the headlines this week? The government can pull money out of the wazoo when they deem it necessary. Meanwhile, folks are out here working seven days a week—punching a clock until they punch their ticket. And that's the purpose of life?

You've gotta be kidding me.

The way we're living isn't sustainable. This virus aside, we're all battling illnesses. How could we not be? You think it's possible to be fully healthy in this sick world?

I don't think simply staying at home and putting a lil' soap on our palms will restore balance to the universe. But I do think there's an opportunity to get to the layer that allows us to address some underlying issues. The ones we've been carrying since forever.

I'm here for the video games and the virtual happy hours. And after that, at 3am, I'll be pouring some wine—hopefully with a little less anxiety, and a little more clarity on how to use this time for good.