The Fear Behind the Fear (COVID-19)

Screenshot 2020-03-21 at 7.46.58 AM

During this strange and unprecedented time, I have been amused by the humorous memes and videos that have been popping up on social media. Parents have been instantly thrust from their roles as busy professionals to homeschooling, full-time, stay-at-home caregivers. While it is so good to laugh at ourselves and find humor where we can, I have to wonder at what lies behind the memes.

Over and over, I have heard people asking for suggestions for ways to pass, kill or survive their time at home, and for ideas on how to stay busy. A fairly consistent theme that seems to be emerging in these funny videos looks something like this…1) person is excited for “down-time” 2) person binge-watches all possible NetFlix shows 3) decides they will finally try to sit and talk with spouse and/or kids 4) ends up melting down screaming into a pillow and ultimately finding a breath of relief in the bottle.

What seems to be lurking behind the humor, is the fear of 1) unstructured and unfilled time, 2) unlimited time with spouses/family members, and perhaps most predominantly a fear of 3) time spent alone. While on paper, and at our busiest, most people would concur that these opportunities are desired and necessary, even coveted. Yet, when the same opportunity extends its hand as a real and viable option, we panic.

Setting aside potential fears surrounding the actual virus and the economy, I have been thinking about the psychology of social isolation for a while now and wondering…what is it, specifically, that are we so afraid of? Upon reflection, it seems that when we find ourselves “stuck” at home with cleared schedules, and unfettered access to our spouses, children, and perhaps most importantly, ourselves…our deepest fear (if we are even able to silently acknowledge it), might be that we will come face to face with…absolute nothingness.

We know that all of the conversations we’ve avoided due to lack of time, all of the insecurities and nagging voices that we’ve drowned or kept at bay…will all be waiting for us in the vast expanse of time. I think that if we are honest, this might be the cause of our deeply-rooted and intensely personal panic. This is what keeps us binge-watching, searching the web, looking for ways to “kill” time. We will do anything to avoid being alone with ourselves.

What if rather than trying to “kill” time, we attempted to lean in and embrace time in its fullness, whatever that might include? What if we sat for a while, alone (gasp!), and let our thoughts and fears rise to the surface and breathe in the fresh air of honesty and unhurried moments? What if we allowed ourselves to feel failure, fear, sadness, anger, and pain…instead of evading, numbing, and tuning these emotions out? What if we allowed ourselves to acknowledge our internal emptiness and nothingness?

In one of my favorite (highly recommended) books, Sabbath by Wayne Muller, he says, “For some people, emptiness can feel fertile and spacious, alive with possibility, as a womb is ripe waiting for a child to come. But others feel emptiness as an ache, a void; something painful, in need of being filled. When we are empty, we feel unhealed; when we are unhealed, we can feel unworthy.”

It seems that this generation, perhaps more than any, is afraid of emotional pain. We try to fix, medicate, eradicate…but we will not allow ourselves to feel.

Could it be that we are a nation of stress and busyness mainly because we are unwilling to feel and acknowledge everything that hurts inside? What if we must first admit to, and then acquire a certain level of companionship with our emptiness and unrest, in order to find true peace, instead of settling for a tuned-out mental break from our internal torment? During this time when the literal world needs healing, what if we started by using the extra time to heal ourselves? A wise saint once said, “All troubles come from a mental outlook that is too broad. It is better to humbly cast your eyes down toward your feet, and to figure out which step to take where. This is the truest path.” This does not mean that we don’t help our friends and neighbors, but rather that we will best serve others when we begin to heal ourselves.

It is my prayer that we will be able to see the opportunities presented by this virus, as opposed to the fear and inconveniences. Suffering is not a new concept, but perhaps new to this generation on such a large scale. I pray that whether we suffer internally or situationally, we will all learn to suffer with patience, kindness, and gratitude, and that we will be able to teach our children how to do the same; and if by chance, you find yourself panicking at the thought of isolation…breathe, lean in, sit with it, and become acquainted or reacquainted with the glorious person that you were created to be.

 

“To come to what you know not, you must go by a way where you know not. Growth may not feel like growth, and we need encouragement that there is somewhere to go, if we are to sail on.”

-St. John of the Cross-

 

 

 

My Final Remarks

tombs001Facebook…If you are reading this, I have already made my decision to say goodbye. I have lost my desire to be in a relationship with you. In fact, somewhere along the way, I think our relationship has taken a turn for the worse and gotten a little bizarre. It started off good…a few friends that were “real” friends in “real” life. You helped me to keep in touch with people, share photos and silly kid stories with friends and loved ones out of state, strengthen bonds within already existing friendships.

But then, things started to get weird. Friends of friends started friending me, people from so long ago they were a distant memory, people I didn’t really know and never talked to!  And I didn’t want to be “mean”, so I accepted.  And I started noticing how other people lived, at least how they projected or I perceived that they lived…how many times they worked out, went on vacation, what they ate for breakfast, their thoughts on parenting, how their marriage was going…even public Facebook accusations of infidelity (?!) and without knowing it, I started to spread myself a little thinner.  I subconsciously started comparing myself, my life, my kids, my house and then for some reason, I didn’t feel quite as good about my life, or at times, perhaps went the other way and became shamefully prideful. But I brushed it off and vowed to compare less.

Then I started thinking about how odd it is that I know who’s loved one had died, or who was going through a painful divorce or issues with their kids…really intimate and hard life stages. Yet, if I ran into them in a store, I would NEVER have brought these issues up. It just wouldn’t be appropriate based on the lack of a shared, “real” relationship. I might even change directions to avoid seeing and greeting them. But yet, I knew such intimate details about their lives. Very strange and so unnatural…

And I realized that these same people that I don’t really know, know so much about my life (and I even consider myself a guarded fb user!)…my kids, their names, our struggles with autism.  Again things that might feel forward or intrusive if half of my Facebook “friends” were to ask.

None of these thoughts are new…they have all been stated much more eloquently by critics of social media.  I’m not sure what officially brought on this decision.  Maybe it’s the fact that I turn 40 this month and have far less tolerance for BS.  Maybe it’s because I’m so introverted and am perhaps becoming more so with age.  And maybe it’s being sickened by seeing it carried out ad nauseam in my teenagers and sincerely fearing the relational and communicative deficiencies of future generations.

I think all of the above is true. But I think I’m also coming to grips with the fact that I am an “old soul” trapped in a young-ish body.  My husband and I have boxes of letters from when we were dating. I prefer a hardback to a kindle, driving to flying, and walking to driving. I cherish being home with my kids and being available to help my husband. I don’t have a bucket list, nowhere I want to visit before I die. I just want to live a long and happy life with my husband and watch our kids and grandkids grow. Perhaps some would say this is settling or a lack of ambition. I think that has been my fear. But I have realized how inverted and backward we have become…how fearful we are of simplicity, of a life “merely” lived well.  It seems we are losing the ability to solely cherish things in our heart without having to broadcast.  Perhaps we are afraid to just BE, without feeling like we have to be something great.  As I jokingly (but also very seriously) say to my kids, “If it’s not on snap chat, did it even happen?!”

I recognize that what I’m saying is not for everyone, that social media can, in fact, be a great way to connect people. There is no judgment or condemnation in my decision. It’s just that for me, I feel the need to part ways for my sake and as an example to my children; that maybe, just maybe this whole social media thing is a little strange.  Perhaps it’s time to step back from technological advancements and connections, slow our lives, recalibrate, have real conversations and let go of ones that aren’t.  It’s a decision for me that has given a tremendous amount of peace and freedom and space to breathe that I didn’t realize was even missing.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do this sooner, why I’ve drug this departure out for so long.  I think the biggest reason is fear.  I worry that if I’m not present on social media, people will think I’m weird, snobbish, or that I’m trying to make a trendy statement.  But mostly, I worry that if I’m not on social media I might truly just disappear and be forgotten about.  Perhaps that is true.  My circle is quite small and might get even smaller.  But the people that are in my life will be there by choice, not out of guilt or compulsion. I don’t want my life to be measured by the number of “friends,” the number of likes, the number of shares.

To my fb friends…there are a great many of you that I have enjoyed getting to know better and reconnecting with through Facebook…your humor, your insights, your hearts. Please understand that this is not a desire to become a hermit or escape from relationships, but rather a desire to deepen existing friendships in a real and authentic way.  I believe you all have my phone number, or at least know how to get it. You can also follow my blog…I don’t write often but if I do have something to say, it will be found here.

Goodbye Facebook…it’s been “real”.

Intentional Silence

undulations“Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear, we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other’s undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other’s voice in any case.”

~An Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau~

 

It has been said that words are the most base form of communication.  In a time when everyone is concerned with finding their voice in the world, we forget the impact and importance of silence.  When we speak constantly, people stop listening.  Words that might be valuable, get lost in the sheer projectile volume.  Life gets big and chaotic and turbulent and if we rise to challenge it, we immediately begin to get lost in the noise.  This does not necessitate a passive, apathetic approach to life.  Practically, we must rise to meet to whatever stands before us.  But we cannot forget the value of first withdrawing into ourselves to subdue our inner turmoil.  When life gets big, we must get small.  If we mindlessly rush headfirst into pandemonium, we will only add to the cacophony and delirium.  We feel the need to say the right thing, do the right thing, and forget that silence is also a viable course of action.  How many problems in life could potentially be solved by just stopping, and waiting in silence?  The Tao Te Ching states that, “No one can make muddy water clear, but if one is patient, and it is allowed to remain still, it may gradually become clear of itself.”  If we are able to resist the urge to constantly fill time and space with empty and urgent words, silence becomes not only an ideal choice but also a familiar and comforting companion as well.

 

We can make our minds so like still water

That beings gather about us that they may see, 

It may be, their own images, 

And so live for a moment with a clearer,

Perhaps even with a fiercer life

Because of our quiet.

~The Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats~