065: Beating the Fear over Covid

In This Episode: The rise of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, is exceeded only by the fear it engenders. Yet Uncommon Sense tells us that fear is getting in the way of what we should be focusing on, not just in the face of the pandemic but always.

065: Beating the Fear over Covid

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Show Notes

  • To help support Uncommon Sense, see the Patron’s Page, or the button in the sidebar. Note: this week there’s a new option using “Ko-fi” — a micro-contribution site. It allows for contributions in $5 increments. I like it because it allows you to leave a comment with your contribution, use Paypal or plastic, and choose whether you wish to contribute once or monthly.
  • I mention my father: his business was “detecting” things: radioactivity (with Geiger counters), pipes (with metal detectors), etc. The company he created the logo for which still exists (as a division of a larger company) still sells detectors under the Detectron name, using the logo shown within the transcript below.
  • The fifth volume of my Honorary Unsubscribe series was recently published. You can get the ebook or paperback from me, or from Amazon (the latter being cheapest if you’re outside the U.S.)


Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham.

I have a friend in California that loves going into deep-dive conversations. We chat once a month or so.

When I say “deep-dive,” I mean the conversation can go just about anywhere, but it’s certainly not silly stuff like the weather or gossip. Every call is meaty, and it keeps me on my feet because I know he’s smart, and he’s not interested in fluff.

This week, we talked about death. Not just because of Covid-19, but because Jeffrey knows I’m a medic, and have seen plenty of death up close. The discussion didn’t stay abstract for long, but I didn’t talk about patients or my experience of being with someone when they died, but rather he was fascinated about the obituaries I write — the Honorary Unsubscribes.

He’s not a Facebook dude, but I said pretty much anytime I post a link to an Honorary Unsubscribe, or other notice of someone interesting who had died recently, there were two kinds of typical responses. First, the “oh, how sad,” “tragic,” or “heartfelt condolences.” The second type is more along the lines of, “What a legacy!”, “A great life well lived,” or telling a memory of something the person did that they remember.

I’m in the second camp: I like to celebrate the accomplishments of those who lived their lives to the fullest. I don’t mourn their passing, because that’s the cycle of life. For me the question becomes, did they make the most of the time they did have?

About this point, Jeffrey started jumping up and down — metaphorically, at least — because he’s a life coach. I’m not a client of his; we met last year through a mutual friend. But this is exactly the sort of thing he works on with his clients, in a similar way that my wife, Kit, works with her clients as a coach. Her focus is “high performance,” which obviously depends on making the most of the time we have.

Being married to a coach, I know that the sort of person who pays for coaching is much more likely to be interested in what the coach has to say about all of this. But with Covid, I told Jeffrey, I’ll bet more are actually listening to his coaching on the topic. It’s not so abstract anymore as we watch the death count climb not just in foreign countries, which makes it more abstract, but among people near us, at least geographically if not someone we actually know.

065: Beating the Fear over Covid
Stuff like this is scary, sure. To keep perspective we need to pay attention to the people who have devoted their lives to studying this sort of thing and follow their recommendations. (Chart: as of the end of the day on March 30 via Our World in Data)

In the past, I asked him, did they say “I don’t have to think about that now,” while in recent weeks are they saying “That’s something I need to think about now!”?

“Yes,” he said. “Exactly.” The present situation gives not just coaches an opening, but also people like me who work to get people to think about issues and legacy and how we make our mark on the world. The door on an uncomfortable subject that people mostly like to avoid is now unlocked, and they’re a bit more agreeable to open that door a little to contemplate what it’s all about. “We have an opportunity to get people to think about things like this,” I said, “when they normally wouldn’t.”

“That will absolutely be the nature of my conversations with people,” Jeffrey replied — “really, all the time going forward for awhile.” Though, I observed, when the dust settles, that door will probably close and lock again. “It’s not just the question of ‘are you living the kind of life you wanted to’ and what are you contributing to society,” he continued, but “if tomorrow is ‘the day,’ are you going to be OK with that? Life is short and there’s no promise of ‘tomorrow’” — before, during, or after Covid. That’s the nature of life in general. “I’ll continue to speak about it in the way I always have,” he said, but now those words are sinking in more.

“It’s just the fact that people are more open to the idea,” he said, and “being conscious that I can be more open with people, knowing that there’s a good possibility that they’re more connected to that part of themselves right now,” and can think about it, and make adjustments if necessary.

I asked Jeffrey how he counsels his clients to make such adjustments. “Just exactly what you were saying,” he said: “To be conscious of these very questions about what I’m doing with my life — every day. What I’m contributing to the people around me — every day. How I am interacting with myself, and the universe, and the world around me — every day. That’s the yardstick to use to assess what you did with your life. Instead of being the backdrop of ‘Oh, an emergency can happen to take you out.’ The reality is every one of us is going to face that departure time. So think about that, and then live your life with great joy and gusto. I want to feel I played hard and had fun and made a difference. It was enjoyable and fun and full of curiosity. All of that, all at the same time,” he said.

In other words, this isn’t something we need to think about because of Covid. This is something we need to think about again and again throughout our lives, up to every day. I’m just bringing it up now because more are willing to listen and think about this topic with the uncertainty Cvid holds over all of our heads. Yet really, our chance of dying in the next week isn’t actually all that much greater than it would be without Covid.

Let me say that again: our chance of dying in the next week isn’t actually all that much greater than it would be without Covid. Though the chances go up the more you ignore the suggestion, or in some cases order, of social distancing.

Once you think through all of this fully, you can be “OK with that” if “tomorrow is ‘the day’.” I told Jeffrey that my own father, for instance, was fully human: he had his faults as well as his triumphs. But when he died, I think he was OK with it: he left his family with a legacy and many things to be proud of, even if we didn’t agree with everything he said or did because, well, no one agrees with everything anyone says or does, especially our parents!

065: Beating the Fear over Covid
I looked it up: the company my dad founded and created this logo for started in the late 1940s. Note the use of the logo in the next graphic.

But more than that, I said, I was OK with it: I didn’t mourn his death. Hell, he was 89 years old: he grew up during the depression and had a difficult childhood, and his schooling was interrupted by World War II, but he didn’t let those obstacles stop him. He took a risk and quit his job and started his own business because he saw opportunity, and did well with that, and was able to provide for his family. And I love it that one of the brands he created still exists, and the company that bought my dad out from that particular company — in 1965 — still uses the very same logo my dad drew by hand in the 1950s! I’ll include the logo on the Show Page.

065: Beating the Fear over Covid
A brochure for one of my father’s detectors, 1955. $545 in 1955 is around $5300 today. Didn’t sell a lot of them …but he didn’t need to!

So no, when he died, I didn’t mourn his death, I celebrated his life. I knew I’d miss being able to talk with him, but I didn’t really have anything to mourn.

See what I mean by a “deep-dive” conversation? Everyone should have a friend like that! And I have several, including my wife. Kit has a similar attitude. I remember when we visited her father just before he turned 94. By then he was pretty much always in a wheelchair: he couldn’t use a walker after he broke his arm. But he still held a good conversation and had quite a spark of life in him.

Still, I had a feeling, and when Kit and I got back in the car after the visit to start our six-hour drive home, I asked her: would she be OK with it if that was the last time she saw him?

She thought about it for a moment, and said yes. I said I do have a feeling that it would be the last time we’d see him, and she nodded: she was still fine with it if that’s what happened. And that’s what happened: he died about two weeks later.

And really, could either of our fathers have asked for anything better than that?

So I think the real question to ask yourself is not would you be OK with it if you died tomorrow, but would your kids, or grandchildren, or friends, or co-workers be so satisfied with how you lived that they would be OK with it?

And if not, what can you do in the time you have left to make that happen?

That’s something to think about for sure. Don’t let fear put your focus on death: focus on living a great life for whatever time you have, because you never know how long that is. Meanwhile, be sure to celebrate the accomplishments you do have — every day. Feel gratitude — every day. And work to be better — every day.

The fifth volume of my Honorary Unsubscribe book series, which celebrates the lives of 150 amazing people, was recently published. If you aren’t familiar with this feature of This is True, that book is the best place to start reading them: they’re the people you will wish you had known. I’ll link to it on the Show Page: it’s available both in paperback and ebook, directly from me or from Amazon.

The Show Page for this episode is thisistrue.com/podcast65, where you can comment, and make a contribution to keep the show going with no commercials interrupting the episodes. Even a few bucks help, and so do book purchases.

I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.

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3 Comments on “065: Beating the Fear over Covid

  1. This podcast resonated with me. My husband died on February 29, 2020, and I have not really been sad. I have chosen to rejoice in his 87 years on earth and all the good that he did. I have made donations to causes he believed in and made sure that the kids and grandkids knew what a great guy he was. We held a celebration of life with the entire family in attendance and with a standing-room-only attendance. All who I spoke with noted his ready smile and the twinkle in his eye. That, to me, is his legacy. I am thankful for the 52 years we knew each other and the joy he brought to my life.

    My condolences. I hope no one has tried to tell you that’s the “wrong way to grieve” (because I can just imagine it happening!) I think what you did is great, and thanks for providing another excellent example. -rc

  2. You said that our chances of dying in the next week isn’t that much greater but for those who are able to work from home, the chances are probably less because we’re not having to deal with traffic going to and from work.

    Good point! -rc

  3. My career required that I deal with death, or at least the thought of it, every day, mostly the deaths of others, but my own has not been forgotten in the process. For every patient I have care for who has died, more awareness has come to me of my own impending demise.

    There was a time when I worried about what my legacy would be, and the manner I would die; violently, or with my boots off and in bed. I now consider those thought to be a part of my ego, the “DIG ME!” (as George Carlin once said) part of all of minds. As I have passed through my 70th year, I don’t worry about that anymore.

    When I go, I want to be remembered as dirty faced and britches, sliding into home plate on a steal from third, being tagged out with a smile in my voice, saying, “DAMN! That was a blast!”

    Most of us never inspect another aspect of death, that being how will I REALLY be remembered?”

    My wife died almost 3 years ago, and I remember her kindness to everyone, and her love for others, and her ability to never meet a stranger, (those were only people that hadn’t been introduced yet.) The one thing I cannot remember is what she looked like, not without looking at a picture of her. I’m not a John Kennedy, an Abe Lincoln or a Martin Luther King Jr, just as I am not an Adolf Hitler, an Idi Amin Dada or a Genghis Khan, there is no reason for anyone to remember my features.

    What I hope people will remember is that I tried to be decent, I was kind to animals, and that if you were my FRIEND that if you needed and I had, you would also have.

    I think that would be a decent way of being remembered.


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