The anticipation for my live event was growing, but the panic and early hysteria was growing faster. New details regarding the virus took over the airwaves as “breaking news” throughout each day and our social media profiles were inundated with opinions, pro and con, along with paid advertisements that were harsh and ugly. It’s an election year and some of what was aired exemplifies politics at its worst.
I refuse to subscribe to fear, as that leads to a false sense of inferiority and imprisons a person like an elephant chained to a tree.
Even Seth Godin weighed in on the discussion with…
In the future, of course, there are no handshakes. Star Trek, Star Wars, even Spaceballs… no one shakes hands.
Today, of course, a handshake is often seen as a threat more than a disarming form of intimacy and equality.
In addition to being a vector for disease transmission, handshakes reward a certain sort of powerful personality and penalize people who might be disabled or uninterested in that sort of interaction. And judging people by the strength of their grip doesn’t make much sense anymore.
Hat tipping (or perhaps an informal Vulcan salute or simply a smile and a wave) might be making a comeback.
So in the days leading up to my live event in Los Angeles I had to make a decision; would I address the issue head on, or instead allow it to be the elephant (I chose pachyderm because it seemed more appropriate) in the room? I settled on the latter and proceeded to welcome my attendees with a group email outlining the details of our three days together.
There were only two responses, both coming about twenty-four hours before we were scheduled to begin.
In both cases the person was gripped with fear. There was talk of death, being ostracized from family members, and guilt for being selfish by putting themselves at risk.
In both cases I responded with “I understand” but with a caveat; if you are choosing to stay in your familiar surroundings in order to stay “safe” are you taking the necessary precautions to ensure that “safety”?
In both cases it was an obvious “no” on that one. They had not even thought about this, at least not in great detail and they were each now acutely aware their decision had been based on fear; fear of the unknown, fear of what others think, fear of making the wrong decision and paying the ultimate price as a harsh and final penalty.
But this virus is different, and for many reasons. As I write this on March 9th, 2020 we have reached pandemic status. Very few people in the world today were alive 101 years ago during the influenza pandemic of 1918 that lasted for almost two full years. That one involved the H1Ni virus and infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the then world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion, including people on isolated Pacific islands and in the Arctic. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.
I am an entrepreneur and included in the definition of that word is “the willingness to take on greater risks, personal and financial…” and this has been true since I got started with my business in 2006. And I have also learned that:
If you want to change your life, and then enhance the new life you have created for yourself you must be free from fears that appear real to you. Be willing to do your own investigations, based on science, not myth. Ask yourself regularly “what are the calculated risks I am willing to take in order to achieve my goals.”
When I was an employee of the school district they decided what risks I would take. I had not experienced any childhood diseases and when there was a measles outbreak among my children who had come from Mexico and El Salvador I spoke with each family individually so they would understand the repercussions of sending a contagious child to school. When the chicken pox vaccination was finally made available (I believe it was in 1995) my doctor’s office called me and I drove to Los Angeles after school to get my shot.
And in the meantime, back in Los Angeles…
So here we are, on the first day of my live marketing event at the hotel in Manhattan Beach where I have hosted six events since 2014. People begin to show up and I allow them to take the lead in how they will greet me. The first man extends his hand and as our palms make contact I instantly regret allowing this to happen. But I don’t let on and accept this as part of my learning process this weekend. A woman I haven’t met before leans in for a quick and gentle hug. As we sit down in the lobby more people arrive and some send a warm greeting and wave from six or more feet away. Perhaps I prefer the hug, but I’m definitely done with handshaking.
That evening six of us have dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. The food is delicious and the conversation uplifting. We are all caught up with the possibilities this weekend event holds for our businesses and our future. It is only later that I realize there were only three other people besides us in the restaurant.
The weekend progresses with little talk of what is happening outside of our private worlds. We break up into groups and head over to the Manhattan Beach Pier to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean waves and breeze. As we make our way to the end of the pier we are safe from world events. Our group, along with a dozen or so locals and visitors is immune from anything dangerous on this day. We naturally break into groups of two or more and discuss business, life, and more. There is no talk of the virus because we have removed ourselves from unhappy or negative thoughts. We make our way back down the pier to have lunch at The Strand House that overlooks the ocean from two sides.
As we laugh and talk and eat we are unaware of others around us. We wash our hands, twice in my case simply for the sake of cleanliness. Afterwards we make our way back to the hotel and go separate ways for dinner.
On Saturday and Sunday we are in our conference room back at the hotel. We get started and during our first break I see that the conference room next to us is being set up for someone’s 90th birthday celebration. Throughout the afternoon they are celebrating and we are moving forward with our marketing event. At one point, on my way back from the restroom I lean in to get a peak at the birthday girl, smiling and surrounded by a hundred or more family, friends, and other well wishers. They depart before our first full conference day ends and suddenly the music and voices disappear completely.
It isn’t until Saturday evening I am aware of anything out of the ordinary; a two hundred person wedding party has cancelled and word is sent to me that we may stay in our conference room after our 4 pm end time that has been a part of my contract every time since I began coming here to host events in 2014. As I pass through the lobby on several occasions there are flight crews (this hotel is a favorite of many of the top airlines) are checking out early. Their flights have been cancelled and they are being sent home until further notice.
That evening we make our way to Il Fornaio, a fine Italian restaurant less than a mile away. We are seated in one of their private rooms and through the three hours while we are all together there we bond even more closely, as human beings with a common hope, dream, and goal for our futures. We exchange stories and business cards and make promises to stay in touch long after this event ends the following day.
Our final day together is a magical one. The three speakers I have assembled for this event are fully present and engaged in the topics they will be sharing with us. Today unfolds “workshop” style, with everyone learning by “doing” and then sharing their thoughts and feedback. During our final hour of the event we finally discuss the elephant (or in this case, just a pachyderm) in the room. We agree that someday we may look back on this as the last time people met in groups in public places around the world before everything changed.
Today has been a long one because we turned our clocks ahead for daylight savings time. And as we depart our goodbyes consists of “elbow bumps” and gentle hugs, but definitely no handshakes. Each of us express how glad we are to have made the decision to attend. And for the first time in years, they want me to promise there will be another event before the end of the year. I tell them that I would like to do my second event of 2020 in the early fall and will keep moving towards making that happen.
As I make my way home on the final evening the freeway is eerily quiet. I try to remember the last time the 405 freeway was so quiet, but not even the time immediately after 911 was anything like this. I am home long before I am expected and as I bring my suitcase and computer bag inside I can hear coughing from one area and nose blowing from another. Someone, or two somebodies are sick.
They come out of opposite corners of the house to greet me, two family members thirty years apart in age. They have been ill for three days but haven’t seen a doctor. I instruct them to get into my car, the back seat of my car. As I affix my mask, my dust mask that has no real value but makes a point they put theirs on as well. I drive to the closest Urgent Care and drive almost completely around the entire parking lot before I realize they are closed. Then I spot the sign instructing anyone who has a medical situation to go to the hospital’s emergency room.
I’ve been to this hospital’s ER three times in the past five years or so and have never seen it so busy. They both have temperatures over 103 Fahrenheit (39 Celsius) and are ushered back to neighboring rooms. I stand in the area just outside their rooms, out of the way but close enough to observe what’s going on. An R.N. uses a stethoscope to listen to their breathing. EKGs and chest x-rays are ordered. IVs are started to deliver a saline solution intravenously due to dehydration. Finally the doctors arrive. Then there are tests, blood drawn and urine samples and throat and nose swabs.
I look for openings to ask questions. The hope is that it’s influenza. No, they do not have test kits for the corona virus. Yes, the rooms they are in have closed ventilation systems. If it isn’t influenza A or B… then they will be quarantined until further notice. I take a seat just close enough to remain in the loop and far enough to be out of the way. It’s after ten o’clock and I am exhausted from my weekend. I text family members on two continents with updates.
My eye is itchy and my left index finger moves up and touches my face. But then I remember the advice to not touch our face needlessly and my hand makes its way slowly back down and into my lap. I am reminded of the science fiction movie The Fantastic Voyage that came out when I was in 6th grade. In this film three scientists are miniaturized to the size of a microbe and injected into the bloodstream of a fellow scientist working in the Soviet Union, left comatose after an attempted assassination. Their job is to make their way to his brain and dissipate the blood clot that threatens to take his life. When their mission is accomplished they make their way to the scientist’s eyes, where they escape through a tear duct seconds before they return to their normal size. Being careful not to touch our faces, and in particular our eyes, nose, and mouth takes on new meaning as the future gets closer and closer.
Just after eleven o’clock the doctor arrives to announce that it IS Influenza A. Tamiflu has been prescribed and will be available at the pharmacy. All of the medical personnel involved with my family members this evening now smile broadly. One lifts his mask up from across the room so we can see his toothy grin.
On the way home I drive through the pharmacy parking lot. Of course it’s closed at this hour. I will be back in the morning, or most likely another family member will take over now. We are a team. I exhale a deep breath that has been cooped up inside me for several days now. The world has changed but I will not allow fear to consume me. As I drift off to sleep I repeat this mantra until the feelings subside and I believe my loved ones will be safe. Yes, I can feel some fear creeping towards me, but I also know that facing it head on, examining the facts as they become available, and being a problem solver and a risk taker will help to maintain the odds in my favor.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, pursuer of facts instead of fiction and willing to take the risks that will allow me to reach my full potential as an author and entrepreneur. How I do anything at any time is how I do everything.