“So give me hope in the darkness/and I will see the light/’cause oh, that gave me such a fright/But I will hold on as long as you like/Just promise we will be alright” –“Ghosts That We Knew” by Mumford and Sons
I haven’t written in a couple of months. I haven’t really known what to say. One of my defense mechanisms seems to be to feel as if what’s happening isn’t real, and I find myself feeling outside of the situation. Like I’m looking on it as an observer, not a participant. Then I go to the grocery store and see everyone else wearing masks, avoiding eye contact and looking somewhat grim, and it hits me again.
This is really happening.
I prided myself for doing “so well” those first few weeks after the gym shut down and everything else with it. I work from home anyway, so leaving the house was a treat I gave myself whenever I had the chance. When I’m at home, therefore, it’s easy to forget. Just another day in my work day from home.
A couple of weeks ago I started to write something rather pastoral, because, well, old habits die hard. It was so positive! I wrote about Easter and hope and faith. But then as days went by, it all seemed to pile up. The way I coped with anxiety and stress as a child was to push it down, put on a happy face and convince myself that it (whatever “it” was) really wasn’t that bad. After all, there are starving kids in Africa or children whose parents beat them. Inevitably after some time, the proverbial shit would hit the fan. I’d break down– usually over something small that didn’t merit such an intense reaction. I’d cry a lot, not even sure what I was crying for, or get so angry I couldn’t see straight. For seemingly no reason. But of course, there was a whole pile of reasons that finally got to be too much and burst open to say “Hey! We’re here! Time to FEEL!”
I’d love to say I’ve learned to do better over the years, but as much as I’ve grown in many ways, that is one area I still struggle with. My mother was an incredibly strong person, but I also saw her when everything got to be too much and she “lost it.” She’d let things pile up inside her until she couldn’t bear it anymore. She thought that she needed to always look good, or to always trust God that things are going to be all right–and keep smiling. She felt deeply, both the good and the bad. Unfortunately, however, she taught me to “put on a happy face”, to “grin and bear it,”… until I couldn’t.
So I’ve taken on many of my mother’s characteristics, both the good and the bad. Sometimes I feel like she’s trying to tell me something, as I find myself acting so much like her that I laugh out loud when I catch myself. I hear her laugh in mine. I feel her pain in my tears or my anxieties. I feel her joy in doing something creative or in appreciating the natural world.
I’m glad she’s not here for the pandemic. I don’t think she’d handle it well. She didn’t like being cooped up her her memory unit anyway, especially after my father died. She was not one to be told she couldn’t do anything or go anywhere. The dementia would have only increased her confusion and frustration.
I’m only 54 and have my wits about me, and I’m not always doing well. Like I said, I was doing “so well…” I do have faith in God. I do trust God to give me the strength and the resources to cope. But some days I just get scared. I’m not scared of dying, I don’t think, I’m more scared of my loved ones suffering and/or dying. I’m scared of losing what’s most important. I’m scared of some of our leaders who don’t seem to care how many people die, but more about how much money they will lose or whether they’ll lose the next election. It feels like a little kid might feel when the grownups aren’t acting right and the child feels like no one sane is really in charge. Sometimes I don’t want to be the grown up. I want someone wiser and stronger to tell me it’s going to be ok.
I’m afraid of evil. I see it all over the place. In the greed, the lies we’re told, in people taking advantage of the pandemic to launch scams and bilk people out of money. I can really work myself up worrying about those awful people. Like my mother, I find myself cleaning randomly or getting angry that someone left their socks on the floor– getting very upset about things that don’t really matter. And I catch myself needing a “time out.” Take a deep breath.
A friend of mine from college asked people on Facebook how their religious beliefs helped them, no matter their tradition. I’ve been thinking about that. Yeah, I’m scared. Even though I have faith that God is indeed with us through all of this. I do still hold onto the hope of Easter; that Love wins in the end, that Good triumphs, and that the final word on all of us is Life and Hope and Redemption. I see countless strangers going out of their way to be kind. I see the health care workers putting their lives on the line, even though their pay grade is shameful. Obviously they are not doing it for the money. They’re doing it because they are essentially kind and good people that feel the deep call to serve others unselfishly. I see them go back again and again, even when their hearts keep breaking at the losses. They keep hoping for another win. My heart is lifted from the videos of the nurses and doctors clapping and cheering the patients who get to go home. Because a win for one person in all of this is a win for us all, and the losses of thousands of strangers breaks our hearts a little bit more.
Two of my neighbors have posted encouraging words in their windows with lots of color and beauty. It is hope I receive every time I go for my walk. I see the artists and musicians posting videos of them reading or singing songs from their living rooms. I watch John Krasinsky’s weekly SGN (Some Good News) broadcast, where he sums up a bunch of good news from the previous week. They are mostly acts of kindness. Some are just funny, injecting humor in a grim situation. I tune into CBS This Morning almost every day to hear the news but also to hear the signs of hope and good news. I trust those three anchors to smile and tell me what’s going right.
I believe that God is at work in ALL of those people, whether they give God any credit at all. I don’t think God is so egotistical that God will only work through those who pay attention to Him/Her. That Resurrection Spirit, Holy Spirit, Life Power, whatever you want to call it, that Creative Breath that moved over the dark waters of Chaos millions of years ago, is the same Spirit that empowers these everyday heroes to do what they do. That Spirit gives them the strength to go back in there after sobbing in the parking lot after one more death. That Spirit gives them the ability to offer love and a gloved hand to those that are frightened. That Spirit brings together family members to the window of their elderly loved one, to sing a song through the glass, show them a puppy, or just let them see their loved one’s face. To say, “We’re still here and we still love you.”
There’s a lot of crap in the world. There seem to be a lot of stupid, selfish people around. But if you really pay attention–and I assure you it’s worth looking– there are so many more everyday heroes who aren’t looking for attention or prestige or money. They just want to help others get through this. The people who put notes of encouragement in their windows, who write letters or cards to loved ones, who deliver food or medicine or masks. After I had my earth-shattering cry from letting it all build up and wishing my mother were here and without dementia so she could remind me that God is with us all– I decided to look each day for small things I can do to help. I love to write letters, and I miss getting letters. So that’s one thing I’ve started to do; write letters to people near and far, just to say “hi” and “I’m still alive” and “how are you holding up?” and to tell them why I love them. I wave to people when I walk to the post office. I am extra nice to the cashier at the grocery store even though we can’t see each other smile through the mask, I try to smile with my eyes.
And after many years of not playing, I started playing the guitar again and singing. Like I used to love to do. But somehow, now, it feels more important to sing in the vast darkness, to chase away fear with songs of joy and hope and a little Elvis Presley. I forgot what my own voice sounded like. It’s nice to hear it again. And I am reminded, through songs I sang throughout my life, of good times and loving connections and faith in a God who brings light out of darkness, life out of even the most violent and unjust death, and who empowers people to be sources of light in this dark world.
The worst and hardest lesson of all this is how to cope with having no control in almost everything. That’s one of the most frightening and sometimes maddening things. I think that’s why people protest and rage with stupid signs that say “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” and “I need a haircut.” They’re scared. I get that. Sometimes when I’m scared I get mad too. I can’t control what the looneys do. I forget that sometimes. I can’t change the world and I can’t change other people. I can only change myself. I can only try to change my own response to this lack of control of pretty much everything.
Be safe. Take good care of yourself. Don’t let the looneys get you down. Breathe. Bring a little light to your corner when you can.
We’re going to be alright.