We are two months into the public health crisis of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Your life has been upended, as has mine.
I’ve been thinking about all the ways this emergency slowdown has affected you. What is life like in your home? Are you retired and watching your investments shrink, or a parent forced to become schoolteacher as well as employee, parent and spouse?
Do you live alone, with your spouse, with a housemate or pet? Have you kept your job for now, are you furloughed, watching your business collapse? Or have you had to leave your college and dorm? Are you waiting for hip surgery? Are you a nurse, a doctor, a chaplain, a mail carrier, a sorter at Amazon?
How are you?
I ask you that question here in the newspaper the same way I ask my clients at the start of each therapy session: How are you? What’s on your mind? It is my client’s cue to turn inward, away from the traffic on the way there, the many decisions already faced that day, the anticipated conversations or conflicts and to slow down, think, recall and reflect with me just for an hour.
How are you? Beneath all our struggles of politics, the home, workplace, income or relationships is the crisis of the self. Many of us have never had this much forced change placed upon us, and we aren’t comfortable at all. We are anxious, sad, disconnected, lonely, frustrated, afraid, bored, rebellious, empty, wasteful or something else altogether.
What is it? Can you identify your experience, the self in this life experience, and who you are now? Do you understand what you feel and want?
I have relearned that I depend on morning exercise to set up my day, and that going to the gym is where that should happen. I want to get back to lap swimming, but first I will need to heal my knee sprain from trying to do stair-climbing at home.
I have relearned that the individual hobbies my husband and I have are more than pleasant distractions but mental necessities. I learned that I prefer a slower pace than what I was living but not as slow as now, and that my adult children are forever on my mind.
I have recalled every day that the years I have spent with my husband have given us each emotional muscle to endure. We together have managed health and family and career crises with a mixture of anxiety, problem-solving, meditation, despair, patience, prayer, hope and gallows humor. All of this is present now in our home. I’m grateful for that familiar set of emotional moves now; they are carrying us again.
And most of all, I have recalled daily the reality of being part of a living, breathing natural creation. We are bodies of flesh and bone, and subject to all the facts of living in this world, including the imperfection of cell divisions leading to cancers or the existence of living organisms we can’t see but which can make us sick unto death. I believe in a God who formed this world and, present with us at every breath, is not usually moved to alter the created order.
Have you spent some time in this emergency to consider how you live your life, what you believe about yourself, the world and others, and how you want to live after this crisis is over? Will you continue to believe, as I know many do, that we are all in this life alone, and that the myth of American individualism a la Ayn Rand is the truth? That it is you against the world?
Or have you come to see that human life is never lived in complete independence but a constant state of interdependence that, at times, looks like paying taxes and voting for people who want the best for others and, at other times, looks like giving up your dream of spring break and wearing a simple face mask in the grocery store?
How are you, who are you, who do you want to be?
May the peace of God hold you steady in these unsteady times, guard and keep our elected leaders, provide us vision for the days ahead and bring us through to lives lived well and with purpose.