I’m not exactly an optimist. Not really a fully committed pessimist either. Somewhere in the gray space in between. I want to believe in the best and sometimes I succeed. When depression descends I can see only the worst. Most days I waver between the two. I try hard to be rational, though I know I’m driven by passion, loyalty, and intensity that burns inside. These are the engines of living my life, and the rationality is the oil.
I guess I predict that we’ll see another spike of CV-19, more hospitalizations and more deaths. I wonder if the second round will be worse than the first. I dread and I fear that it will be.
Still, I’m trying hard to live in this moment, to find some peace amidst the boredom and chaos, odd bedfellows in the time of a pandemic. It seems like all I hear is outrage. Since 2016 the space in my brain and heart devoted to outrage has grown and pushed out a lot of the hope that grounds me.
But, 2020 has brought me outrage fatigue. I’m exhausted by it, depleted, and I have to turn my eyes to something else. Last fall, I gave myself one Tweet per week to send out to our *president. Those tweets matted together and became a bezoar in my gut, held together by sticky fear and hard hate.
If I’m to live in anything approximating peace, I have to give this up—the hate and the outrage, the fear and the dread. The “Serenity Prayer” challenges me to act courageously when I can and to accept when I can’t. So many things fall into the latter category. I cannot change other people. I cannot stop a virus. But I can stay home, wear a mask, distance myself socially.
The photographs this week of folks in Wisconsin, maskless and bunched together, going about their lives as if life were normal are an assault on rationality. It makes no sense to live this way. Images of protesters, with guns, fighting for the right to assemble, maskless, in large groups makes no sense either.
But outrage doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Wishing that these people contract the virus, that they spread it to their elderly family members, that they are wiped out by the virus extend far beyond outrage. Death and suffering are just not things we should wish on others. It depletes us, strips us of our humanity.
And, it doesn’t make any sense. The virus isn’t Republican or a MAGA supporter. It just is. If these people get the virus, they create spikes of death and suffering for all of us.
I think it all boils down to fear. We are terrified. I am terrified. And fear so easily morphs into anger and rage. It is the flip side of fear. And they are easily nurtured when we have no control, when we are confused, when we face the unknown.
My neighbors gather most nights around their fire pit. They entertain their neighbors. I can’t see them and don’t know if they’re wearing masks, if they’re sitting six feet away from each other. But, I doubt they are. Part of me wonders what the hell they’re thinking. Another part enjoys their laughter and their friendships. I can tell you sincerely that I don’t wish them harm, however much I judge their choices.
I’m trying to nurture that gentleness. I’m trying to practice lovingkindness. I meditate regularly, and lately I’ve turned to lovingkindness meditations. I try wishing happiness and safety not just to myself and to my family and to my friends. But to my neighbors. To protestors, to maskless Wisconsinites.
I cannot with words or actions change their behavior. But, I can change mine. I can choose hope, gentleness, kindness. I can scroll past the images that trigger fear and anger.
I can dwell on my backyard and watch the blue jays fight with squirrels. I can sit very still as a chipmunk scurries just past my feet to her destination in the bushes behind me. I can hear my neighbors’ three kids squeal and splash sprinkler water on each other. I can feel a breeze on my arms and the warmth of the sun.
I can be grateful for the frontline workers, the docs and nurses, the grocery store clerks, the delivery people. I can miss my daughter and workout with her via Zoom. I can talk to her on the phone and talk about cooking and the details of our days, apart from each other.
I can sit here as I write, feeling sadness and worry and allow them to just be. I can let the fear and hate unspool.
Mary Gauthier is a favorite singer/songwriter of mine, and she wrote a song that I need to hear because we could all use a little mercy now.
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