Events happening around the world at present suggest that the voice of the people is rising in volume and coming together around core values of justice, freedom, self-determination, and integrity. There is a flash-mob-like energy that is culminating in a tipping point of change. For some, this change is threatening; for others it represents liberty.
External synchronous events include seasonal change, the pandemic apparently receding, shifts in political leadership around the world, and an acute awareness of suffering – not just in Ukraine, but throughout the world. Internal events, at least for me, include widening my activities, returning to life unmasked, and a recommitment to a more active and healthier lifestyle.
What the Pandemic Showed Me
This re-emergence is a bit daunting. At times I am bold; at other times tentative. I used to be more sure of myself, believing that I had sufficient resources to manage my life. Resources for me go far beyond the financial “nest egg”. Most importantly, they include friendship. They also include a sense of safety and security and a clear idea of my purpose in life.
Two years ago this week, I was on a lifetime bucket-list cruise to New Zealand. I came back from that cruise with wonderful memories and covid. Two years ago, I thought I was in charge of my life. Two years ago, I had never heard of Wuhan, China, never considered what steps I might need to take to slow or stop the spread of a virus, never imagined living in quarantine, never considered shifting my work and social life to Zoom, never thought I could go for days without hearing or seeing another human being except on TV or through a window. I guess I didn’t have much of a sense of imagination!
What I Learned About Myself
The pandemic showed me that I could change my way of life. I could change my attitude. I could change my habits. I could change my vision of the future. I could change how I worked, where I worked, and what the focus of my work was. Was it hard? Parts of it – absolutely! Did I find a way to manage? Yes – not always gracefully, but I managed.
I learned that I prefer getting up early in the morning and going to bed at the same time every night. I learned that I need to be accountable to others in order to motivate me to exercise. I learned that I love napping. I learned that I can go without talking to another human for days.
I learned that waking up at 3:00 am can be frightening and lonely or stunningly beautiful and inspiring. I learned to spend most of my time in the present, with occasional forays into the past, but fewer and fewer reconnaissance missions into the future. I learned that the life force continues, in spite of my trials and tribulations.
Most of all, I learned to be kinder –to myself and to others. I caught myself more frequently when my inner critic was taking over, and saw past the hurtful criticism to the intention behind it — that I make better choices. I laughed out loud when something tickled my funny bone on TV, not caring that it wasn’t a lady-like laugh. I surrendered to my deep sense of loss and loneliness by crying out loud until the wave of grief passed, which sometimes took longer than I wanted it to.
So, What’s Different?
“What’s different?” It is a question that requires reflection and comparison. The choice of comparison is very instructive. Compared to last week, I am feeling more hopeful. Compared to two years ago, I am feeling more resilient. Compared to what I know about history, I am aware of just how vulnerable I am.
When I reflect on these answers, I see that I have a deep well to draw from. I have role models who not only survived horrible things, but who found ways to forgive and move forward with their lives. I have a track record of recovery from surgery and recovery from covid that makes me both grateful and aware that I need to take better care of myself. I have friends and colleagues who reassure me that they love me and will be there for me.
Thornton Wilder wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town, back in 1938. The world then was also on the brink. Demagogues and dictators were in the news and innocent people were being uprooted from their lives. What made the show so successful was how Wilder tapped into his version of Ecclesiastes: we’re born, we live, and we die. What we do with that is what brings us joy or misery; it is our choice.
If you are not familiar with this show, you can choose from any number of wonderful productions on YouTube. The eloquence of Wilder’s words has helped me to remember that I am part of a much larger whole. The characters he created help me answer my questions: How do I locate myself in this moment of history? Where is my center? Where do I belong?
For Everything There Is a Season
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NLT)
We now seem to be in a time for war, a time for tearing down, a time for crying and grieving. This verse promises that there will also be a time for peace, for building up and a time for dancing and laughing. What this doesn’t speak to is how long these seasons last. That is the difficult part.
I hope that this season of pain and intentional harm is short and that we find better ways to manage the fear and reactivity that seems to be part of being human. I hope we find time to once again embrace and heal and build up. And I hope those times last longer.