The rapid spread of COVID-19 or, perhaps more accurately, the reflexive measures taken to slow that spread, have left our country a bit dizzy. As we settle into a new normal — with slower days for many, relative isolation for most, and quite a lot of unease for all — it strikes me that we are experiencing collective suffering on a global scale.
Let’s not waste it.
I don’t mean to make light of the loss of life, but I also don’t think we’re wise to overlook the other suffering going on around us — the kind the majority of us will live through. A common question is “What do we do?”
I thought I’d suggest a couple things I’m learning.
Don’t Hide Your Fear
Last week our President was asked what he’d say to those in our country who were afraid. His first answer was to insult the reporter who asked the question. His second answer offered a couple days later was meant to ensure the American people that as President he would always fight for us.
While he blew his Comforter-in-Chief Moment, he didn’t do anything we also aren’t guilty of — insinuating there’s nothing to be scared of or downplaying our emotions. Here’s what I wish he would’ve said, and that I’m grateful I’ve heard others say during this scary time:
“It’s okay to be frightened. We don’t do ourselves any favors pretending we’re not frightened. But we’ve got to have faith — in God, in one another, in experts who are fighting this thing. But faith doesn’t cancel out fear instantly, nor does it do so once and for all. It’s not linear like that. We’re going to go up and down on this thing, but fear is what it is. We might as well name it. Then we can deal with it the right way, instead of pretending it’s not a thing.
Again, if you think I’m just critiquing our President (whose job I’ve never been more glad not to have than the present moment) let me say it again and plainly — we all do what he did. We all pretend or try to pretend like there’s nothing to be afraid of. Whether it’s a macho “What’s the big deal, anyway?” or the deluge of distractions we fill our lives with because we feel so out of control, we all tend to cover up our fear instead of just naming it.
Let’s not waste this moment to be vulnerable enough to say, unequivocally — I can’t control this, and that’s scary.
Name Your Attachments
Along with our fears, we have to name that to which we are so attached. Maybe it’s your work. Maybe it’s your friends at school. Maybe it’s your habit of going out to eat. Maybe it’s something altogether different. Maybe it’s going to the gym. By being asked to distance ourselves, we’re feeling stress around that to which we’ve grown so attached. What a gift to be able to have those exposed to us.
What are you missing the most right now?
What are you craving that you can’t have?
What is the first thing you’ll do when things get back to “normal?”
Most of us cruise through life attaching ourselves to stuff, situations, and relationships without giving it much thought. What we’re missing right now is a big clue as to what we’re attached to. We may as well admit it.
We all know we live too fast, too busy, too overwhelmed (for some of us, that’s what we’re attached to and missing…). We thrive on that pace. But this is a rare and beautiful opportunity to reshape our priorities and our rhythms. For some, vocation got a lot more complicated and a lot more overwhelming. But for many others, this is a chance to find some equilibrium. To give more time than normal to loved ones. To invest in a hobby. To read a book. To exercise and sweat and move our bodies (we’ll need this, almost certainly, to avoid the Freshman 15s sinister cousin, the COVID 19).
What is something you’ve always sworn you’d prioritize if you just had the time? Well, what’s your excuse now?
It is time to create, to cook, to take a nap, to eat good food and drink good drink and watch sunsets. To sit still and just count your breaths.
It’s time to slow down.
Don’t Waste This Suffering
Richard Rohr is an author and speaker and Fransiscan that has helped me in recent years grow into some values I always knew I had but I never had language for. He speaks of how life is usually transformed by great love or great suffering. Together, on a nearly unprecedented scale, we are being given the opportunity to suffer all as one. Some of us are merely being inconvenienced. Others are sick. Thousands have and will continue to die. Our level of trauma is not the same, but any counselor worth their salt will tell you not to compare trauma.
If you’re a human, you cannot remain exempt from the corporate suffering even if you are exempt from the virus itself.
Sure, we can try. We can pretend it’s not a fear-inducing thing. We can begrudgingly abstain from all our creature comforts only to rush back to them once we get the all-clear sign. We can even busy ourselves and remain overwhelmed. If we do, I think we’ll look back and find that we (individually, I mean, as well as altogether) did not change much. We will not have grown.
However, if we commit to not wasting this suffering, we’ve got an opportunity to be transformed.
Each of us.
All of us.
Photo Credit: NY Post