A sigh of relief

While the act of staying home during this pandemic can feel isolating for some, I am struck by the inherent duality of this individual act for the benefit of our larger human existence. To help protect others and quell the spread of harm, we give up practices that previously brought us happiness. When I look at it from this perspective, I have never felt more connected to others knowing that we are all making sacrifices (some minor and some truly significant) for the health of each other and for the hope of a stronger shared future. As a major extrovert, spending all day alone in my home has been a challenge. When my husband gets home, or when I happen to see a neighbor on an evening walk, I am sure that I am like a Labrador puppy—so excited by the prospect of seeing another human that I can’t remember how to use my feet, let alone figure out how to string together sensible phrases. 

This experience has helped me to reaffirm how much I value human interaction and my relationships with others. The simple act of being able to hold eye contact with someone while we speak is something I will never take for granted again. Embracing someone in a hug so full that I can feel the breath fill their lungs and their heart pulse is something I will savor more. 

I have also spent a lot of time during this pandemic reflecting on the impact and significance of the human presence on the Earth. While humans are suffering, the Earth is surely on the other half of the yin yang relationship. As humans, we have been forced to limit our travel, decrease our production, and tailor our consumption. We are forced to reimagine some of the human pieces of our existence. But for our planet…oh, I imagine she is finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.

A black bear eats grass in Yosemite National Park. Courtesy Ed Coyle Photography
A black bear in the grass at Yosemite National Park. Courtesy Ed Coyle Photography

There are signs of the Earth and other living creatures bouncing back on every continent. The waterways of Venice are clear and active with marine life, the measurable air pollution in China has decreased so much that it is detectable from space, Black Bears in Yosemite are more active, a coyote was spotted enjoying the beach below the Golden Gate Bridge, Penguins roam the streets in South Africa—all of these reminders of the spaces and places that humans have taken away. Even in my own neighborhood I have spotted owls, rabbits, a fox and a hummingbird, all creatures that my fast-paced life and the traffic of human life have pushed from view.
This leads me to the question…is the over-consumption of finite resources by our (sometimes extravagant) lifestyles the very infection that the planet is trying to fight off right now? Is our mutually transformative relationship with the Earth out of balance and in need of recalibration? As active members of the global-ecosystem, can we commit to lifestyle changes now to help the Earth build immunities and resilience? 

When we return to a "new" way of being together in person, I desperately hope that our human interactions will return stronger and more intentional than before this pandemic. But, I do not hope that our lives "return to normal." I hope that we can find a new way of existing that appreciates and respects each other and our shared blue dot in the cosmos a little more. I hope that all of us can fight off some of the negative practices and harmful behaviors that our pause in activity has resulted in allowing the Earth to breathe easier.

—Dr. Erin Sylvester Philpot, Assistant Director