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Covid, quarantine and closures are creating a hierarchy of grievance. We need compassion.

Are we competing in the pain Olympics? With most sports canceled, are we going to decimate each other instead — the winner being the one who suffered the most?
COVID-19 social distancing
A woman quarantines at her townhome after testing positive for Covid-19 on April 1 in Wheat Ridge, Colo.RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post via Getty Images file

“And just like that, we’re back in quarantine,” I posted on Facebook on Sunday. “Send chocolate!”

We’d been in quarantine for three days the previous week because someone in my daughter’s in-person kindergarten class had been exposed to Covid-19, so everyone had been sent home while waiting for the student’s (negative) test result. Now my daughter would be in quarantine this week, as well, because her bus driver had contracted the virus.

It turns out sourdough starters and toilet paper are not the only things in demand during Covid-19. We also need more compassion.

According to the school, the bus driver was fine. I, on the other hand, was not. Between the quarantine and the holiday break, I was looking at five weeks locked down in our Manhattan, New York City, apartment trying to work with my husband and daughter underfoot, in the middle of winter. I really needed chocolate.

“I can send you some shows to binge-watch,” a friend commented on the post. I wanted to laugh. Or scream, "I DON’T NEED SHOWS TO WATCH. I NEED CHILD CARE, SPACE AND TIME TO DO MY WORK!"

That’s when I realized: We’re all having very different pandemic experiences. And that has led to a hierarchy of grievance — with everyone competing in their suffering. The collective outrage that greeted celebrities trying to commiserate with plebes like us because they were holed up in their million-dollar mansions or on yachts sailing around the world has now been parceled out to friends and family whose Covid-19 circumstances appear better than our own.

“It’s Coronavirus that will end our friendship — between me and my single friends,” one mom posted on a parents’ Facebook group. “I don’t care how callous this sounds but please complain about your Netflix series ending soon to someone else. I’m barely holding it together as I try to watch my kids and work and be with my husband.”

On an infertility Facebook group, childless women were complaining about moms complaining. “They’re your [@#$#@] kids. Yours. Be grateful that you have them. … Because some of us wanted them with everything in our being and couldn’t have them.”

The zero-sum attitude has infected how we look at the options to help families cope, too. “Stimulus and/or enhanced unemployment is millions of times more important to the fate of the country than schools reopening,” an acquaintance tweeted.

Single people, of course, have their own woes. “I tried dating, but what’s the point?” my friend Mark told me the other day. “I was talking with a woman, but then she said she was going to restaurants and I realized I was too afraid to meet with her,” he explained. “So there’s just no momentum or excitement if all I’m doing is chatting with someone with no chance of getting together.”

I wanted to feel bad for him, I did, and for the people who were bored out of their skulls because they’d finished “Cobra Kai.” But I dreamed of “A Room of One’s Own” — without Zoom school, a shrieking child and endless days playing with Legos.

Of course, I had no right to complain, with only five weeks at home. Other parents (mostly moms) have been doing this for nine months! With multiple children! Some parents had lost their jobs! And their houses! At least my husband and I have each other, a child, a home and, ostensibly, money.

Also, no coronavirus.

As my grandmother would have said, "Abi gezunt!" — Yiddish for, "As long as you have your health." There are more than 200,000 people sick with Covid-19 right now, tens of thousands of long-haulers who’ve never fully recovered, upwards of 3,000 people a day who are dying, and the 300,000 already dead in the U.S. leave behind more than 2.5 million people grieving a loved one.

“Anyone who hasn’t been denied the opportunity to visit a dying family member in the hospital because of Covid restrictions can’t possibly be having a worse pandemic experience than me,” said a friend whose father died early on in the pandemic.

Then there are the people literally dying of loneliness, while depression and anxiety exacerbated by social isolation have skyrocketed.

It turns out sourdough starters and toilet paper are not the only things in demand during Covid-19. We also need more compassion.

Compassion for those who have lost someone to Covid-19, for those who are suffering from Covid-19 themselves, for the health care workers caring for them, for the front-line workers — like our bus driver — caring for us, for the store and restaurant owners losing their businesses, for the hourly wage earners who are unemployed or forced to work in unsafe conditions, for the minority populations disproportionately affected by Covid-19 … the list goes on and on.

Given all this, someone like me who’s facing a winter quarantine and my friend without a date and the people at the end of their Netflix queue come at the end of the line.

But does there have to be a line? Is this a pain Olympics? With most sporting events canceled, are we going to decimate each other instead — the winner being the one who suffered the most?

Is it possible, instead, to hold in our heads that other people might have it worse and need to be acknowledged and supported in their extreme difficulty, while we are (almost) all legitimately suffering in some way? And that what matters most is not our relative degree of pain but that we work to alleviate others’ the best we can?

“Because we all have dealt with hardship during Covid, people often worry that they can’t burden others with their own problems,” said Yariv Hofstein, a psychologist who has counseled hospital health care workers in New York and is now in private practice. He’s heard some people say, “How can I talk about postponing my wedding when they have a relative who died?”

Many of us also are suffering from compassion fatigue, “when people feel that they no longer want or can find compassion for others,” according to Hofstein.

What to do about it?

Many of us also are suffering from compassion fatigue, “when people feel that they no longer want or can find compassion for others.”

“Do the opposite,” he said. “How you avoid compassion fatigue is to show compassion, even if you don’t feel like it.” Call in and check in on somebody, avoid judgment, send them a dinner or a gift, he said.

This will not only help the recipient, but also the giver. “By allocating compassion and empathy to others, no matter how small or big their hardship is, we gain a sense of control over our own struggle,” Hofstein said. “Finding time to show kindness to others during Covid can actually make us feel better about ourselves and strengthen our ability to cope.”

So it seems I can feel bad for myself about my five weeks at home and send food to front-line workers. Maybe I’ll even suggest something to those scraping the bottom of their Netflix barrel: Read a book!