There is a beautiful poem floating around the internet this week by Laura Kelly Fanucci about not taking for granted simple things like handshakes with strangers and boring Tuesdays when this season of social distance and the global pandemic is over. The poem ends with the lines, “when this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be…and may we stay that way–better for each other, because of the worst.”
The words of her poem have held me and comforted me many times over this week, and? I’m also becoming aware that it is easy now for me to look ahead and say “yes! I’ll come out on the other side of this more grateful, and more aware, and thankful for simple gifts like high-fiving the kids down the block and being able to buy dried beans at the store,” but it will be difficult to actually live that way for long though unless I do the inner work to make those shifts.
Sure, when the social distancing guidelines lift and people I love are no longer quarantined, those first few days will be glorious and full of joy. But I know myself. How my default is to live not in the “moment as it is” but in the “moment as I have assessed for potential improvements” in my mind. Gratitude is a struggle for me, and just getting to the other side of a pandemic is not going to change that.
If I am truly going to embody Laura’s words, then I must be courageous enough to do the work to make them a reality today. This is not to say that we should turn quarantine into a self-improvement boot camp, though there are plenty of people suggesting that. Instead, let’s look from a different angle. The challenge I faced in normal, day-to-day life was staying present to a moment, taking in the full scope of the joys and disappointments therein, and then embracing the whole of it as a gift, a wonder.
When I first started working with a therapist, one thing they noted was that it is impossible to selectively numb our emotions. I had been trying to numb myself to frustration and anger and grief because I believed those emotions were “bad,” but I also found myself feeling less joyful and excited and grateful in the process. If we numb, we numb the whole range of emotion, not just the part we’re trying to avoid.
Right now, there is a strong appeal to just hunker down and get through this. To not feel the fear that leaps up in my chest. To not release the sob that is welling up in my throat. To close my ears to the sighing song of grief that is echoing through my heart right now.
I can spiritualize my avoidance too, “GOD HAS NOT GIVEN ME A SPIRIT OF FEAR!” I cry to the waves of tension rising and falling from rib to collar bone. The tension is not convinced.
“THE LORD IS MY ROCK AND SALVATION! WHOM SHALL I FEAR!” I whisper desperately, willing the tears away from my eyes.
If I succeed in numbing these uncomfortable feelings now though, then the gratitude and the joy and the delight I am anticipating on the other side of this will also be subdued. Courage, today, looks like grieving. It looks like letting the anxiety rise and fall in my chest and taking the time to listen to her, to find out what she’s saying to me.
Courage looks like not trying to do things “the right way” today because there is no archetypal “right way.” Perfection a liar and a thief and has never been more unhelpful.
There are right things, moment by moment. And we will get it wrong sometimes. And there will be another moment to try.
Today is not a self-improvement boot camp.
It may be a grieving boot camp.
Or a breathing through your anxiety boot camp.
Or a releasing those things you cannot control boot camp.
Or a turning it off, leaving your phone in the other room and going to sleep at 9 pm boot camp.
And that is good and courageous.
I do eagerly await the day when I can move more freely again in the world. I hope I never again take dropping by the coffee shop or meeting a friend for lunch for granted, but it’s likely I will. Today the work is to begin to build the muscles for staying present to the moment, whatever it is. To be brave enough to embrace the joy and grief.
Today, practice being in the moment, whatever the moment brings.
That alone is courageous enough.