Fatigue and Endurance
I’ve been hearing the term “pandemic fatigue” a lot this week. No big mystery about the meaning. We’re tired of it. Tired of the disruption. Tired of the anxiety. Tired of the relentless numbers of sick and dying. Tired of this issue too being politicized. I signaled my own P. F. with a post, earlier this week, titled “You Tired?”
Some are tired for obvious reasons — long hours of trying work in a hospital or nursing home, or long hours on the phone or internet trying to run down an unemployment check, or long hours of trying to figure out home schooling. But even if we don’t have those challenges — and I don’t — we can still experience fatigue from being cooped up, from tracking the changing information, from wondering where we’re headed.
But David Brooks offered a different term, and with it, a different perspective. He spoke of endurance. He writes,
“We have entered the endurance phase of this pandemic. We are slowly mastering this disease, but we have not yet done so. And so we wait — and endure.
“Endurance is patience. It is shortening your time horizon so you just have to get through this day. Endurance is living with unpleasantness. In fact, it is finding you can adapt and turn the strangest circumstance into routine.”
Framing where we are now as “the endurance phase” seems to me more helpful than talking about “pandemic fatigue.” Fatigue, while real, has more of a victim element, a passive quality, to it. We’re suffering “pandemic fatigue.” Poor us. Endurance interjects a note of agency, of power. We endure. There’s even a tingle of heroism there.
What is endurance? The OED defines it as, “The ability to keep doing something difficult, unpleasant or painful for a long time.” Merriam-Webster adds, “The ability to withstand hardship or adversity.”
Generations before us understood that endurance was necessary, that the difficult, the unpleasant and painful would come and were unavoidably a part of life. There is some question if the present generations still get endurance. Now’s our chance.
There are many references to endurance in the Scriptures. Jesus is offered as an example of enduring unjust suffering. In recent years, many have been critical of such texts. It has been pointed out that such passages have been misused, invoked to tell people to put up with things that shouldn’t be tolerated. These objections and objectors have a point.
But there’s also a point to the virtue, the capacity for endurance. I’ve so often been both humbled and amazed by the endurance I have witnessed in many people’s lives. How they endure in the face of chronic pain, terrible illness, great frustration or enduring difficult, trying people. I’ve wondered how I would do if I were in their shoes.
Because we have become adept at managing, even eliminating, many forms of suffering we sometimes seem to think there’s no good reason ever for suffering. But that’s BS. Moreover, we don’t, then, develop virtues like endurance and persistence. And where are we when we need them? We need them now. We are in the endurance phase of this pandemic.