Talk softly.

There is no one right way to get through a pandemic. Perhaps you’ve seen social posts suggesting you write a book, paint your house, or finish some other huge project. And some people do respond to stress by throwing themselves into activity. (And, apparently, love to post about it.) But others don’t. And that’s ok. We are each unique and need to listen to our own hearts and bodies to figure out what self-care looks like right now. Perhaps it’s enjoying tea, watching the sunset, reading a good book, or cleaning out a closet. Perhaps it is being still. Perhaps it is taking a break from social media to enjoy some introspective time. There are as many answers as there are people asking the question, ‘How can I best care for myself right now?’ Listen to yourself, and be gentle with yourself. This is tough.

Grief, that’s what it is

We are grieving, collectively, the world over, all of us. Grieving the past we’ve lost and the loss of the future we expected. Things will be forever different for us. There are stages to this grief, and we will all experience it differently. But it is in acceptance where we will find the ability to process it and move forward into an uncertain future. This is our now. This is what we have to work with.

In this excellent article on grief, David Kessler shares his thoughts on what we are all going through:

“Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this, but all together this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

The article is well worth a read, as it helps us put the issues we face now in perspective and give voice to our feelings. He states:

“Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s Acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

“Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

Sometimes dealing with a problem begins with naming it. Grief, that’s what it is. Have compassion on yourself and others. This is hard.

Watch for the stars.

In every darkness, a bit of light will shine to light your way. It may be in the acts of kindness and generosity you see, in words of wisdom you remember and hold close to your heart, or memories of past struggles that you have gotten through to the other side. We draw strength and courage from each other, working together. That community will sustain us.

In his book, Healing the Divide, editor James Crews collects poem of kindness and compassion. Here is one by Danusha Laméris for you to carry with you today:

“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. ‘Don’t die,’ we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead—you first,’ ‘I like your hat.’”

We will get through this present darkness. Hold tight to the little kindnesses, savor them, and spread them where you can to light the way for those behind you.

For more, a reminder that we were made for times like these.

Loving thy neighbor.

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When you have the power, or are on top, or when everything is going your way, it’s only natural to want to strut. You don’t want to think about a time when you might be powerless, on the bottom, or have the world against you.

That’s a downer, isn’t it?

But that’s exactly where religion urges us to go, to think about the world from other perspectives, to consider what life is like for people without your privilege, to have empathy with the unfortunate. Because, after all, if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you hope they would look out for you?

Mom wisdom.

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Did you know that just the sound of your mother’s voice can be soothing, eliciting chemical reactions in your brain? For a heartwarming example of a baby reacting to her mother’s voice for the first time, watch this video:

Over the years, our mothers are there for the ups and downs of life, offering their advise and comments. Mothers help us to make sense of things, comfort us when we are blue, and prepare us for the future.

What are some pearls of wisdom you learned from your mom? Please share them in the comments.

To get you thinking, consider this delightful list of motherly insights.

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Plunge into life.

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Plunging into a good book expands your empathy, takes you to places you’ve never experienced, and lets you walk in the shoes of someone who thinks, acts, and lives in a way different from you. And you can fall in love, again and again, with the perfectly flawed, endearing characters you encounter there. It helps you realize that the world is complex and full of many perspectives and life experiences, that your way is not the only way, that you are one thread in an infinite, glorious tapestry of life.

 

Read.

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Reading opens our hearts. There may be no better way to stand in someone else’s shoes and look at the world from their point of view, to understand a life and world experience wholly different from our own. The inevitable result of experiencing the world from someone else’s perspective is empathy. And empathy moves us closer into recognizing our kinship, one and all.

Feel sonder?

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Sonder. A made-up word for a very real emotion. In his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig defines it: “sonder, n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

It’s a remarkable realization. We are all the stars of our own lives. We have our supporting casts filled with friends and families, maybe a foe or two, and then a whole world of incidental extras to our story. People behind the lit windows or sitting quiet on a shared bus or in some far off country. When we pause, we realize that they, too, have rich and complex stories filled with their own casts of characters. Their sorrows and joys are as real to them as ours to us.

Koenig has created a remarkable video to illustrate this notion of sonder. And his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is well worth your time. It is filled with profound insight and wonder.

But what to do with this realization, this feeling of sonder? It creates more than a passing fancy in us, doesn’t it? It leads to looking others in the eyes with respect rather than dismissing them as somehow lesser. It leads us to want to help ease their pain, as we realize that pain is as deep and biting as any we ourselves have felt, maybe even worse. It leads us to reevaluate our own centrality. Yes, we are central to our own stories, by virtue of our limited perspectives. But we don’t need to be bound in the fetters of our own subjectivity. We are central to our own stories, but not to the whole story, the world’s story, humanity’s story. There we are part of a vast cast of players, each at once both the star of their own story, and an extra in someone else’s.

Lead your children well.

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None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know the values we hold dear–honesty, integrity, love, compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance. As we raise our children, we instill these values. As adults, we model these values whether we win or lose, succeed or fail, sink or swim.  Watching us, they learn, and, as they go forward into their futures, they will bring these values to their own decisions. If each of us does this, we will leave the world a better brighter place for our having been here.