Updated: Mar 20, 2020
I'll admit to a lot of frustration and a fair amount of stomping around. I haven't exactly risen to the occasion during our rapidly unfolding COVID-19 crisis.
Did I mention that my floors are torn out and my kitchen is fully gutted?
After waiting over a decade to remodel (Let's not bother the kids when they need to study . . .), I pulled the trigger in mid-February, whereupon all hell broke loose. Colleges closed, and my kids arrived home to take online classes and final exams smack-dab in the middle of incessant noise and dust.
Any day now, I expect to receive my World's Worst Timing award.
Coronavirus aside, I realize that my spectacularly ill-timed remodel is very much a first-world problem. My family still has bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as a microwave and a basement freezer stuffed with food. Though the virus is spreading swiftly and exponentially, at this point in time, my family is healthy, utilities are operational, and Amazon is delivering.
Let's face it — my biggest problem is inconvenience.
To escape, or at least ameliorate, the sounds of construction while I work, I've moved a wobbly desk from our attic storage to the bedroom. Instead of a wall, I now face the sprawling redbud tree just outside the window. If I lean back just a little, the ground below disappears, and I'm nestled in the awakening boughs. And if I lean back a little more, I see only treetops and blue sky.
With this physical change in my perspective, my latent better nature is snapping its fingers in front of my face, trying to get my attention — or rather, to shift my attention where it needs to go:
Thank you to the safety workers, medical professionals, and everyone else on the front lines of public health management. I am thinking of those of you risking and sacrificing so much to care for the sick and infected. And I am thinking of those individuals who are at greater risk of illness than the rest of us — and those who are already ill and struggling to recover.
Thank you to those who have stepped up and filled in gaps wherever leadership and services have been delayed or lacking. I am thinking of those of you battling with bureaucracies of all sorts, determined to bring us the coherent instructions and accurate information we desperately need in order to lessen the inevitable death and wreckage.
Thank you to those who are resisting the urge to hoard and are refusing to panic. I am thinking of those of you delivering home-cooked meals, much-needed medicine and cash, and equally needed Purell and Clorox wipes to those in need. I am thinking of those of you whose first instinct is to consider people who need protection and compassion.
Thank you to those who understand that our absolutely essential social distancing does not require social shut down. I am thinking of those of you who continue to call, email, and contact other people — particularly people situated far away from their families and friends, particularly people who are living alone and without support. I am thinking of those of you who are doing their best to ease the loneliness of others.
And yes, thank you to this unpredicted and unpredictable virus. While I'm terrified at the harm it is wreaking, it has also cleared away much of my internal noise and nonsense. It is illuminating beyond doubt what is real and true.
As I lose control of my routine, home, and plans, I realize that I was never actually in control, that nothing was ever certain. Thinking now of people stranded far from home, or unable to return due to illness, or caught in an immigration no-man’s land, it is 100% clear to me that nothing is more important than having my family safe at home with me.
As my commitments lessen due to all of the necessary cancellations, and as available time begins to expand, I realize the necessity of filling that time with the work and activities that fill me with joy — reading, writing, dancing, and all the things I've long postponed for what's supposedly more valuable or urgent.
As the inside of the house feels increasingly confining, I realize that nature is always calling, even in the winter weather. What a pleasure to take walks with our boys again, to play soccer and tag on a muddy field in the park. What a wonder to exist and to breathe in this world — a world trying so hard to remain in balance with us, despite our abuse and irresponsibility.
As it becomes impossible to see others in person, I realize how critical those in-person interactions are — chatting with neighbors, greeting those we encounter in the grocery store, participating in jokes and laughter at a party. Though virtual connection is a necessary part of modern life, there is nothing like the visual connection with the people physically around us, with the living, breathing community to which we belong. These are the people we are striving to protect as we distance ourselves socially.
Of course, we are all hearing news of people rejecting reality, defying health regulations, selling $100 hand sanitizer bottles to frightened and desperate buyers. As gut-wrenching and outrageous as their behavior is, as difficult as it is to comprehend their apathy and recklessness, I am forced to ask myself — isn't this always the case? During any time of great distress, and with respect to any issue of critical importance, there are those who deny, deflect, and deeply disappoint.
As such, this is my workshop on hope and faith in humanity. This is my opportunity to take deliberate notice of, to count, and to celebrate the million acts of kindness, goodwill, and compassion pouring from communities and people everywhere. Surely, if I can do this now, when there is so much at stake, I can do so post-virus and thereafter.
In the meantime, I sit in this redbud tree's embrace, trying similarly to embrace what is happening around me with equanimity and optimism, trying to imbibe the innumerable lessons of this moment. And in this moment, I am full of tenderness for our human family, with all of its heartrending fragility.