I’ve always been the type of person who responds to bad news with a “this-is-not-happening” reaction. I get that distressing phone call, hang up, and return immediately to my e-mail or to making dinner or to whatever task I was doing before my world came crashing down. If the call is distressing enough, my denial doesn’t last for long. Five minutes, ten maybe, and then the weight of reality finally drops me to my knees.
When the bad news isn’t all that bad or, worse yet, is confusing, my denial can go on for hours, even days. When this pandemic hit home on March 13, and I watched in befuddled awe as my world came crashing down, I didn’t stop to soak it in, I moved straight into action. If my talks and classes were cancelled, was there some other way I could provide instruction and support through my online coaching? If my school visits were called off, could I record a video and create some teaching tools to help the teachers and students? If book sales had halted, could I find some other way to bring income into the business so I could move forward with my current writing projects? I’ve always been a hard worker, but I think I worked even harder in those first two weeks after the lockdown started. I wanted to be of service, I wanted to concentrate on things I could control, I wanted to stay in motion.
While I was working harder, many of my artist and writer friends were finding it impossible to work at all. The doubt, fear, and sorrow weighed too heavily on them. They couldn’t focus on creative expression. I got that. The day after the crisis began, a friend said, “You’ll start creating all kinds of new content now. Maybe you’ll blog every day or several times a week, instead of once a week only.”
And I believed him. In my “must-work-so-as-not-to-panic” state, I was happy to think I might write more than usual. To my surprise, that hasn’t happened. I’ve kept up this weekly blog, but that’s it. There’s so much to process as each day at home slides by, that I’m not even sure what to write about until my self-imposed deadline rolls around on Fridays.
How do you put into words the magnitude of this experience? What do you choose to write about when bad news arrives several times a day? When thousands of people are dying alone in hospitals, and millions are losing their jobs? One minute, I feel terrified. Then lost, then hopeful, then grateful.
How does a writer summarize all that “is” when all that “is” is changing by the hour? And all that “is” can only be defined by each person as they muddle through this?
Last night, the isolation really hit me. I’ve been coping pretty well, what with phone calls and Zoom meetings and chats from six feet away. But last night, I didn’t think I could take one more minute in this house. I missed people. I wanted to go out to a restaurant. I wanted to jump in the car and take a spontaneous road trip. I wanted to hug my grown kids. I wanted to know when this would end. Really end. Not just when they would lift stay-at-home orders, but when we would feel safe gathering again.
Then I had a stunning realization. Before this all went down, I’d actually been complaining to my husband about how routine our lives had become. “All we ever do for fun is go out to dinner with friends,” I said. “And all anyone talks about is politics or work. No one is really listening to anyone anymore (myself included). No one is asking deep questions about what really matters. We don’t laugh enough. We don’t play together enough. We do that quick “nice-to-see-you” hug, but we’re all too tired and stressed to invest too heavily in what someone really needs.”
And now, here we are in the midst of this corona pandemic, checking in with friends and colleagues and acquaintances. Asking, “Are you healthy? How’s your business? What’s going on with your family? Is there anything you need?” We’re closing our conversations with, “Stay safe. Stay well.” We’re saying, “I love you,” more. We’re putting stuffed animals in our windows to cheer the children, and dropping off groceries for the elderly, and placing painted rocks that read “be strong” beside our sidewalks. Our world has shrunk to the size of our neighborhoods, and our hearts have grown to cradle the whole world.
The best lessons are often the hardest lessons. Difficult as it is, I think we need to sit in this discomfort a bit longer until what really needs to change sinks in. We need to sit here long enough for bad habits to morph into better habits. Long enough to acknowledge the impact we’ve had on our planet. Long enough to remember what and who truly matter. I need to sit here long enough that this doesn’t just become a “this-isn’t-happening” distraction and becomes a time of real change. At least that’s how I feel in this moment.
From the bottom of my expanding heart, I hope you and yours stay safe and well.
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