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Gerry ChidiacThe COVID-19 crisis has been a challenge for many of us. We’re used to interacting freely and going where we want to go. Now many of us are forced to work from home and others are not able to work at all.

Our movement is limited, we have to practise social distancing and we’re constantly washing our hands.

Many find these circumstances overwhelming and stressful.

One of the most powerful lessons on dealing with challenges is written in my favourite book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

The author, Jewish psychologist Viktor Frankl, fought to stay alive in a Nazi concentration camp. He concluded that “suffering ceases to be suffering when we give meaning to it.”

In other words, if we can find meaning in what we’re going through, it suddenly becomes much more bearable.

What then is the meaning of staying home and dealing with the inconveniences of the COVID-19 quarantine?

The most obvious answer is that we’re saving lives. If the virus can be contained, the number of lives saved is virtually incalculable.

There’s a great deal we still don’t know about COVID-19. But by following the guidelines of medical professionals, we’re showing that their recommendations work and we’re providing valuable data for dealing with future pandemics.

For our mental well-being, health professionals remind us to let go of things we can’t control and focus on the things we can. We can’t do anything about the fact that COVID-19 exists. We can’t control the economy, nor can we control the decisions of world leaders.

Ultimately, we can control little more than our own attitudes and actions, but therein lies our power. We get to choose how we respond to the situation.

If we can find ways to be grateful and support the efforts of those who are trying to make the situation better, we have contributed greatly to our own happiness. We can all cheer our healthcare workers or help our neighbours in need.

As a teacher, I know how significant my work is as I support my students in navigating these difficult waters.

It’s also very important to stay active. I’m reminded of my time living in an African country on the verge of civil war in the days before we had Internet access. When I couldn’t leave the house, a series of exercise videos entitled Bodies in Motion with Gilad Janklowicz were my salvation.

Now I’m so grateful to be able to walk outside every day and it’s good to see so many others taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

Throngs of people are also taking advantage of the time they’re given to be creative. Whether it’s cooking, writing and performing music, making TikTok videos, photography, painting or anything else the human mind can create, we’re doing wonderful things.

We’re living proof that people are naturally active and creative.

In addition, we’ve found new ways to connect with one another. Thank goodness for technology and the intelligence to be able to learn how to use it. We’re so much less isolated than we would have been even 20 years ago.

Maybe it has been good for us to stop and contemplate our lives and the world we live in. We’ve been forced to grapple with a disease that can be life-threatening.

The truth is, however, that life-and-death decisions surround us all the time, we’re just not always mindful of them. Every day we make choices that impact our health, the well-being of our neighbours and the health of our planet.

We will get through this challenging time. Hopefully, it will have been a meaningful time, one in which we’ve created a kinder, healthier and more compassionate world.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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