The Fear Behind the Fear (COVID-19)

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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-

 

 

 

Living Seasonally

live-in-each-season-1024x1024I’ve spent the last few months with blinders on…not the blindfold type of blinders that prevent you from seeing, but more like the type they put on horses to keep them focused on what is ahead of them.  Life all of a sudden got really hard, and really good, and really busy, all at the same time.  Kind of like a whirlwind introduction to teenagers, owning your own business, husband starting a business kind of boot camp.  I laugh/cringe because this is just the way I operate…when things get hard, I get small and go inward.  When I was delivering my first son, I basically kicked everyone out (and down the hall so I couldn’t even hear their voices), and my poor husband who took all those crazy classes with me didn’t even have a chance to put his newfound knowledge to work from his chair in the corner.  I had to be fully alone and present with myself to focus and complete the task at hand.  So I’ve spent the last few months in my “internal cocoon…” possibly socially isolated and emotionally withdrawn, although I don’t know how I appear to others.  I haven’t been upset, I’ve just had to focus on getting through a challenging time and I do my best work alone.

I planned and pushed with fervency to wrap up as many jobs as possible so that I could be home with my kids for the summer.  And then…it was summer.  But to my complete surprise (and delight), the summer that normally devours me like a consuming tornado, has meandered in peacefully and silently, observed by the wonderful cessation of marking time and checking off to-do lists.  I did reverse psychology on myself by getting so busy, that summer now seems slow in comparison (I must be smarter than I thought to be able to trick myself)!  My oldest boys literally fish from sun-up to sun-down and my daughter is in Florida helping family.  I have gone from having 5 seemingly co-dependent children to feeling like I only have 2!  My days have transitioned from non-stop movement, to coffee (with refills!) on the patio in the company of a good book.

Throughout the course of the last few months, I am reminded that the struggles and busy-ness of life can function as a splinter.  They can cause irritation and sometimes outright pain, but the second they are removed, the relief gives way to a newfound joy and appreciation.  Although I am a regrettably slow learner, I am beginning to posses with certainty the belief that every stage of life is good (even the hard ones) and can offer new opportunities for gratitude.  I have loved being busy and creative and working, but I also love letting my brain rest and “just” being a mom.  We can go through life, constantly looking anxiously ahead to the next phase, or we can learn to suck the marrow out of the here and now.  I have done plenty of looking ahead.  I long to improve upon cherishing the present.

I am also (finally) beginning the grasp the importance of living seasonally.  Earlier in life, I strived and worked incessantly.  I felt lazy if I stopped to rest.  Yet when we frantically press on and on (even in positive, fun times) without diversity or change in pace, we quickly run out of steam and live a dreary life of monotony.  There must be times of ebb and flow, work and rest, tears and laughter, suffering and joy.  I am learning to heed and embrace the literal seasons of nature for life cues…the long, slow spread of summer days, the solitude and silence of winter, the invigoration of spring and the calming crispness of fall.  I’m even attempting to eat seasonal foods to provide for varying physical needs throughout the year.  I’m trying to fight less against life, and instead receive with open hands of gratitude each twist of events that life presents.  In doing so, I am learning to trust more deeply and authentically.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and the longer I live, the more I can look back over the threads of time to see how my life is being expertly woven.  I am seeing with greater clarity that I can breathe and lean fully into a life of trusting God, nature, and myself.

Living seasonally is nothing new.  It is, in fact, ancient and old and wise.  I, however am not.  But perhaps through the symbiotic relationship of internal intuition and nature’s external prompting, I can settle in to a rhythmic sort of journey that will lead to a full, healthy and long existence.  Life is hard.  But it’s also really, really beautiful.  I want to make the CHOICE to savor the sweetness of life, instead of dwelling on it’s bitter moments.  Cheers to summer…My new art purchase...

 

 

Nothing New About This Year

I’m sitting by the fire in my pajamas at 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.  Everyone is sleeping or gone.  The smallest tinge of wistful sadness has settled in with the quieting of the house as I look back over the course of this year.  There is a sense of finality with the passing of 2016…another year gone, completely unretrievable.  My oldest will soon be driving on his own, we have no more babies in our home, and I am quickly approaching 40.  Time seems to pass like a hurricane through my raking fingers and I am left gasping and grasping after something that refuses to be caught.

But my sadness is not over the passing of time, nor over the approach of teenagers or mid-life (as I am enjoying both).  Rather it is a sadness over the ways that I have failed to encapsulate and cherish every moment of the last year.  I grieve all of the times that irritability presided over gratitude.  I regret every moment that I rushed through and missed, moments that will never be recovered.  I especially and deeply mourn every unkind and impatient word I’ve wasted on my children (and there are many).  In my mind, I so badly want to suck the marrow out of life and slowly savor every last bit but I so often fail to live this way.

160121_slatest_blizzard-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2I recognize the irony.  With this being New Year’s Eve, it would be the perfect time to resolve to do things differently next year.  But the fact of the matter is, I know that I won’t.  I will make the same mistakes.  I will fail…and succeed…and fail again.  However, lest I be mistaken for a brooding pessimist, allow for a clarifcation.  This cycle, in my humble opinion, is in fact the very essence of life and I believe it to be exceedingly beautiful.  Life is a compilation of moments: heartaches and joys, peaks and valleys, tragedies and triumphs.  Yet, when standing nose to nose with life, it is not always readily apparent which are the successes and which are the failures.  It is foolish to bask in the glory of freshly fallen sparkling snow, and then curse the very same when it turns to sludge.  So often, our darkest moments become our greatest success stories.

This is why I do not resolve to do anything differently in 2017.  Rather, I resolve to do the same thing day-in and day-out, year after year.  I resolve to accept defeat and success with gratitude, knowing that both are changing and shaping me.  I resolve to put my best foot forward every morning, recognizing that my best may look different one day to the next.  I resolve to accept the snow and the sludge, the sun and the sunburn, the rain and the flood (although I know I will not always accept them gracefully).   Ultimately, I resolve to always struggle…to fall down and get back up and fall and get back up.  It might take me a while to find my feet again, but I will get there…eventually.  For it is in the struggle that we are strengthened and made whole.  I wish you all good strength and a great journey…Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autism, Judgment, and Love

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“Levitating” with a shovel implanted in the ground

I am the mother of an 11-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism and a love for magic, levitating, yo-yo’s and recreating things he’s seen on YouTube.  He makes me laugh and cry harder than any of my other children.  Over the years I have grown pretty thick skin.  I rarely notice the stares if he loses it in public.  I am mostly used to the judgment.  I have been told by a stranger at Costco that I should have left him at home when he pushed his sister.  He has been nudged by the boot of an unknown man and told to “mind his mother” when he was pitching a fit on the floor.  When I locked him out of my car in the parking lot of a mall because he was hitting me, the woman in the car facing mine took off her sunglasses to glare and shake her head at me (I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear).  To be certain, I am not impervious to these occurrences, but they have become a part of life to some degree; my new normal if you will.

But what I cannot handle, what absolutely dissolves my resolve and shakes me to the core is when someone shows me kindness.  Heaven help us all if a stranger stops and asks if I’m alright or if I need help, or even worse, tells me I’m doing a wonderful job as a mother.  I might actually drop and shed every last tear in my body.  I can be strong and keep a stiff upper lip.  But look at me with concern on a bad day and ask how I’m doing, and you might literally witness my complete and utter undoing.

There are many things in life that I do not know.  But the one thing I do know is this: impulsive judgment without understanding gives rise to anger and bitterness.  It builds walls and leads to retreat or retaliation.  Love however, can undo and rebuild in one swift movement.  It can pluck you out of your small world and drop you into the foreign land of another’s struggles.  In a world confused by what color lives matter,  who can use what restroom, and which politician will cause the end of the world, if we do not respond with love, we will leave only emotional casualties behind.

Consequently, when we find ourselves on the receiving end of unfair judgment, we are left with a choice. We can wallow in the pain, playing the part of a victim.  Or we can choose to release ourselves, and with gratitude, turn our focus to the goodness surrounding us.  We will see what we choose to see.  Even though I have, at times, been enraged by people’s cruelty, it cannot compare with the love that has humbled me over and over again.  I have seen my son bite his teacher and draw blood, and then watched them walk hand and hand into school.  Friends and family have searched for and then cooked meals that are free of the fifty billion allergens we avoid, just to give me a night off of cooking, or to make sure that my son has a special treat at family dinners.  Teachers at his school have given up their personal time so that my husband and I could get away for our anniversary.  I have received phone calls from school because one of my other children had unbeknownst to me, taken the needs of a physically disabled student upon himself, and was carrying the child’s backpack to class every day.  My dad regularly drives an hour each way to take my son to a movie so that I might enjoy a quiet morning in church alone. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I have been on the receiving end of the unconditional love of my son.  No matter how many times I lose it, or become irritable with him, or feel like I’m going insane, he tells me every night at bedtime without fail, “Good night, I love you.  You’re special to me.  I think about you in my heart.  I think about you in my peace.”  I don’t really even know what it means, but it’s beautiful.  Some nights, I brush over it, because I’m just so excited for him to go to bed.  But when I stop and think about it, I can’t really think of anything nicer that anyone has ever said to me.  And once again, I am undone.  Love has overcome the anger and frustration of the day and released me one more time from the snare of judgment (me toward myself this time).  I settle in for the night and fall asleep with the words of Mother Teresa in my heart, “Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”