COVID – The Gift That Keeps Giving

All I got for Christmas was COVID. Needless to say, I hadn’t put it on my wish list. But per usual, Life has its own ideas about gift-giving. 

As an extreme rule-follower, and a self-described pandemic poster child, I thought I would escape 2020 unscathed. Silly human.  If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that our delusions of control are grossly misguided. Life isn’t a puppet for us to manipulate. 

Our egos would have us believe that if we are _______ enough, we will succeed in getting what we want. No matter our age, experience, or level of maturity, we never seem to shed the immature notion that we can bend fate in our favor. When we fail, the disappointment can be hard to swallow.

The mind is like a toddler who can’t sit still in a church pew. Constantly jumping from one thought to the next, future-past-future-past, it repeatedly asks ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’ edging out any chance of being content with what comes to pass.

When I was carrying my 4th baby, after having lost my 3rd during pregnancy, anxiety ruled my existence.  By cutting and pasting the tragedy of the past into a possible future recurrence, I robbed myself of the opportunity to enjoy what turned out to be a healthy pregnancy. In truth, no amount of catastrophe practice would have saved me from suffering fresh pain had the outcome been negative. Instead of fearing and fretting, I could have chosen to been happy. 

Trying to impress this lesson upon my high school senior who awaits college acceptance letters is no easier than it was to appease the Christmas-morning anticipation she had as a child. We want to know outcomes and reasons so we can end the emotional war within. But it is this need to know that actually perpetuates the battle.

Eckhart Tolle advises, “Give up waiting as a state of mind….snap out of it. Just be and enjoy.” Letting go of anything should be easier than holding on. When I grasp a heavy object in my hand, it takes effort. When I release my effort and stop contracting my muscles, the burden of holding eases. 

The irony is that when it comes to letting go of our ideas about what should’ve happened or what we wish to happen, we find ourselves somewhat incapable of releasing our grip, no matter how much it pains us to hold on. 

Emerging on the other side of illness, I’m reminded that the fear of a thing is often worse than the thing. When one finds themselves face to face with something they dread, there’s no choice but to deal with it. Action brings relief from anticipation.

I’ve never welcomed any adversity I’ve encountered. And yet, I’ve also never met a challenge that I couldn’t shake hands with when we parted. Illness, loss, and struggle are simultaneously impersonal and bespoke, providing for each of us exactly what we need in order to practice making peace with life.

I find myself humbled by Life once again, and grateful for reminding me that I am vulnerable but not victimized. Even in 2020, Life is a place I’m glad to be.

Quaranteaming

With a 22-year old daughter living in Myanmar, my husband and I tuned in to the pandemic long before most. We leap-frogged over a lot of the concerns that are now consuming many a modern parent such as cancelled school and under-stimulated students.

This isn’t a claim that our experience makes us any more informed or entitled to anxiety than others. Nor do we have special dispensation to complain about how this pandemic has been handled by leaders. Rather, we feel a kinship with the world that perhaps is missed by those who have yet to settle into the reality that we’re all in this together.

Engaged in a virtual chase around the globe in pursuit of an invisible enemy, we tried to get ahead of the virus lest our eldest daughter get stuck in any number of unfavorable situations – alone, stranded, sick….Our focus was on formulating a plan to evacuate her from the opposite side of the world as the need arose.

The call to action came in the form of a letter distributed by my daughter’s peers who found themselves ill with COVID-19 symptoms. The terrifying description of their experience within a primitive healthcare system unleashed the parental panic I’d been harboring for weeks.

None of us were sure that our special-ops level of planning would guarantee my daughter’s safety. But after a stressful 50-hour trip, she arrived home, rattled by the experience of traversing the globe under extenuating circumstances.

Although she was glad to have returned to the U.S. through a rapidly decreasing window of opportunity, my daughter was loath to leave her second home, especially the people she grew to love. She struggled to hold back tears when she broke the news to her students that their time together was coming to an abrupt end. For although their country borders China, they had been sheltered from the chaos thus far. Even my daughter, who was acutely informed of the facts via her stateside connections, insisted until the bitter end that she was unaffected.

She wanted that to be true. We all do. But slowly, we’re coming to grips with universal vulnerability. This disease is not selective. Every human being on the planet is, or soon will be, embroiled in this war in some way. None are immune. Many feel defenseless. Each, I suspect, is struggling.

My family has decided to quarantine together at home, even though my daughter offered to isolate offsite when she returned from Southeast Asia. Quarenteaming, we’re calling it. If she, or any of my family falls ill to this disease, I want to be the one to care for them. This isn’t valiant, it’s motherhood.

With all of us hunkered down together, frustrations arise of course, but so do humor and moral support. For the most part, short tempers and sharp tongues are quickly checked by the newest dose of sobering news.

When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in my town, the local social media group erupted. Meanness and insensitivity dominated. One post demanded that the name of the infected family be revealed. The tone was disturbingly reminiscent of the infamous witch trials which took place in this same backyard in the 17th century.

Tension is high. But if we give in to hysteria and a compulsion to attack each other, we’re doomed to sink our own battleship. We’ll never win this war if we fight against our own team.

Life isn’t interested in blame. It’s also uninterested in assigning awards. This isn’t a competition in who’s doing the best parenting or homeschooling or good deeds. Life isn’t even asking us to be active or productive right now. What life needs from each of us is to shift our way of being, in favor of the greater good, and to apply the best of ourselves to what we now face. Because we’re all in this together.

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