Lessons From Covid-19

Lessons From Covid-19.

Denisse Oller


As a former national news correspondent, I was aware of the virus that had originated in Wuhan, China, by the end of 2019, which had spread throughout the globe. Still, the idea of COVID-19 reaching the United States of America, the mightiest power in the world, seemed utterly impossible to me, and our leaders kept reassuring us that everything would be ok.

I had never truly recovered emotionally from 9/11.  As a journalist, I had covered national and international crisis news for decades. Still, nothing was as traumatic to me as the mayhem and the obliteration of human life resulting from the attacks on September 11, 2001. I remember starting live coverage at the studios at Univision-NY, shortly after the first plane hit the North Tower of the former World Trade Center. I covered the unfolding tragedy for days and weeks, which turned into months. I never faltered. Internally, a different story was unfolding.  The terror never left me.

This time around, with COVID-19, I chose to look the other way, despite the alarm bells.

My friends and closest colleagues kept warning me about the impending crisis. Somehow, I kept downplaying their advice. But as the days went by, in some form of slow motion, New York was becoming more and more desperate, fear was setting in, people were wary of one another, and folks started wearing masks!

In early March, a friend herded me to a nearby Duane Reade drugstore and forced me to buy all the paper towels, toilet paper, and Lysol in evidence. I kept thinking she was an alarmist, as I carried the bags which were bigger than I am. On the contrary, she was a lifesaver.

The days and weeks that followed were surreal. As a communications executive at a non-profit organization of primary care physicians and providers assisting New Yorkers, I worked 24/7.

My growing anxiety became global, underneath my denial of the pandemic. It was still winter, so the days were gloomy and cold. New York became the epicenter of the pandemic at this time, and the city was becoming a ghost town.

I wanted to feel useful, to join my colleagues in the trenches helping to save lives, but I knew that was impossible; I live with acute asthma and am at high risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. Guilt set in. Every time I saw the makeshift morgues for the COVID-19 victims, my impotence grew deeper.

I ate for comfort and gained more than 15 pounds.  I stopped communicating with friends and family. I was living in a bubble, dealing exclusively with work. I struggled to wake up every morning; I felt a spiritual emptiness, a bottomless sorrow.

I tried prayer, but I found no solace.

One night, as I struggled with sleep, I looked to the ceiling and closed my eyes.  Then, I heard a voice. My mother was once again reminding me, as she had in my childhood, that:  “Just like the lotus, we too have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness and radiate into the world.”

My inner voice pulled me out of the depths of my despondency. Listening to her words, I felt a shift in my brain. Fear was leaving me. I felt hope for the first time in a long while.

I began to meditate again after an absence of some time. Gradually,  the knowledge acquired from years of meditation returned. I found a new acceptance. Instead of focusing on pain and despair, I was able to  concentrate on practicing “mindfulness,” what the ancient Buddhists call “the cherishing of each moment.”

With each day, I celebrated a kind of rebirth. The fears and challenges that came with the pandemic truly diminished.

I am navigating new terrain.

For the first time in my life, in the midst of COVID-19, I gave myself permission to follow my own “camino” fearlessly and full of compassion.

Looking back, the dread of dying physically and emotionally became the impetus for personal growth.

Since I cannot control my destiny, why anguish?  I have divine gifts; I can write and tell stories and have a healthy sense of humor. Why waste those talents?  My days have become occasions to practice compassion and kindness. I now have tears that flow from gratitude at the generosity of the world, not from fear of losing it. I have allowed myself to open up and take life, just like the lotus flower in my dream.