These Uncertain Times

My three boys and their cards for our next-door neighbor, Ellen.

A month ago, the kids were in school, we were shaking hands and had no awareness of social distance.  Words like pandemic and global recession weren’t on my radar.  Coronavirus was this far away thing on the news.  

Last week, my next-door neighbor died from the virus.  His name was Alan.  I didn’t know Alan really.  We’ve only lived as neighbors for not even a year.  The busyness of life kept the relationship to neighborly waves and hellos.  One evening last summer I remember sitting with my family in the backyard around a fire.  From time to time, we’d hear Alan’s hearty laugh as he watched a rerun of the show Frasier.  We smiled and chuckled with one another as Alan unknowingly shared a simple pleasure of his with us all.  

This week his wife, Ellen, grieves alone in the silence of her home while under self-quarantine.  She was with him at the hospital just before he died.  I can only imagine the precious words shared between one another after 50 years of life together. 

We’ve been sheltering in place for over a week now.  Sometimes all I feel is disbelief.  I think, is this really happening?  Did Alan really die?  Is the couple walking their dog outside my window really going through this too? 

Sometimes I don’t feel anything at all. 

And every day I feel this foreboding sense of vulnerability –a low-grade mix of fear, worry, dread and panic.  I especially feel it when watching the news.  Less when I don’t.

Sometimes I feel sad over so much that has been lost, like my youngest son’s remaining year of kindergarten.  Such a beautiful, mystical year of his education, now likely over. 

Sometimes I just keep my head down and stay busy.  Work.  Get something done.  Stay productive.  And it feels good.

Often, I feel worn down and exhausted.  I struggle to peel myself out of bed or off the couch to go to bed. 

Sometimes all I want to do is watch an episode (or four) of Seal Team.  Such a good show.  They know how to work a problem while under fire. 

Sometimes I start sentences with, “You know what we need to do?  We need to…”  And I feel certain and clear about my next steps. 

Often though, I am confused.  And I start sentences like that because I don’t know what to do, and I don’t want to show it. 

Everyday I worry about money.  Every day. 

Sometimes I pray randomly, “Come, Lord Jesus.  Come.”

A few times this week, I opened the fridge and stood there looking for something good to shove in my mouth.  Preferably chocolatey.  Then I shut it without grabbing anything because what I want is not there.  I then do it again…12 minutes later with the same result. 

Sometimes I feel on edge and cranky.  I say things that are unkind to people I love.

Sometimes I like home school, and I catch myself wondering, maybe this would be better for us as a family.  Maybe this is a profound moment to reset our lives

Sometimes home school sucks.  And I’m like, W.T.F.

Sometimes I do stuff that is so simple, pleasurable and feels revolutionary, like take a walk.  During and for a time after my walk I feel better.

Everyday I feel mostly relieved that I’m not on social media.  And everyday I feel like I’m missing out on the latest.

Sometimes I do stuff I’ve never done before, like a workout video on YouTube.  (Check out Heather Roberston’s channel.  She almost put me into cardiac arrest yesterday.) 

And sometimes I feel restful and calm, enjoying this chance to be at home with my family.  It feels like this surprising gift to connect and feel safe, together. 

And sometimes that peace is interrupted because I remember the Why.  Or, my kids are bickering over who gets to play their video game next. 

These uncertain times are many things.  And that’s okay.  Let them be.  Let them happen.  What we are all going through is so disorienting.  So unknown.  And with great uncertainty comes many varied and jumbled thoughts and feelings, and they seem feel like conflicting experiences.  But they are not.  It’s all normal.  All true.

And it’s all heading somewhere. 

Right now, so much is ending and being let go of.  And there is still this foreboding unknown ahead: we don’t know how bad the suffering will get.  And at the same moment, something is being reordered.  Though we are feeling the sting of discomfort, we are awake.  And we are beginning to do things like reassessing what matters now, and potentially reprioritizing our choices and commitments. 

Suffering and Discomfort.  Pleasure and Possibility.  Both are true.  Both ready to teach us if we will listen.

Don’t rush to concretize anything.  That’s not the phase we are in.  Most of us are in triage mode, doing what we have to do with what we have available to us, for that day.  Take comfort in the fact that we are in the midst of an ancient rhythm of life called transition.  It always begins with disorder.  It always brings a reordering.  And those that stay attentive during transition become better humans.  More alive.  Less fearful.  More generous.  More courageous. 

So simply notice.  Again, stay awake.  Write things down that are true, both what’s hard and what’s good.  My family is doing this by writing things down on big poster-sized sticky notes.  Why?  Because we don’t want to forget.  Humans forget easily.  It’s all at the surface now, so pay attention.

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