Coronavirus Is Our Reminder to Breathe

Doing what matters to us — as humans, not just bodies — has never been more vital

Shannon Mehner
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readMar 14, 2020


A photo of orange-lit clouds in a blue sky.
Photo: Aristocrats-hat/Flickr

When I try to figure out what I can compare this coronavirus experience to, my mind draws a blank.

My mom’s terminal melanoma diagnosis? 9/11? The housing market crash of 2008? SARS? But the tragedy doesn’t just belong to me, or just the United States, or even just an hour or a day or a few months. It hasn’t fully happened — yet. We cannot grieve and try to rebuild. We cannot point to one moment in time and say, That was awful, we’ll never be the same. It is happening, it is unfolding, it is not quite here but already here but nothing has happened to me really but some things have happened and I spent a lot of money at the grocery store and my kids’ schools are closed and should we go to that birthday party this weekend and what about that summer trip we have planned?

Never in my 34 years have I felt the world’s collective nervous system this wired. The air feels like it is vibrating around me.

I watched hours of mind-numbing reality TV to bring me down after I came home from Costco, the epicenter of panic. The panic is real. The aisles are empty. The virus is spreading. The pandemic is official. This is not a drill.

Our nanny’s husband was exposed. My sister’s deskmate at work was exposed. My stepbrother is quarantined after being exposed in the hospital where he works. But no one I know has it. No one I know can tell me what it feels like, what it looks like, what to expect, whether it will make its way to my community, to my family, to me. There is a lot of waiting, shopping, buying toilet paper (but why!?), reading article after article after article, learning what social distancing is and what the mortality rate is in each country, worrying about loved ones and not knowing when I’ll see them again because they live in other states. My families’ hands are chapped and peeling from so much handwashing. The jumbo hand sanitizer is halfway gone from the past month. No confirmed cases in our community, that we know of. Yet.