Wednesday, June 10, 2020

HOLD THE HIATUS – Keeping One’s Spirit Alive During the Pandemic

I’ve been journaling about this whole COVID 19 situation for nearly three months now. Besides simply documenting the experience for posterity, these jottings have served as my sounding board, my companion and, occasionally, the vehicle of my venting.

They convey spans of emotion from profound loneliness to a proud sense of community, from abject despair to guarded hope, and from mild concern to sheer terror. Even the occasional embarrassment of riches, finding myself so little affected by the crisis, and so…well…happy.

But I’m afraid it’s taken me all of these three months—even expressing those feelings, even doing other things right like maintaining daily structure and a sense of purpose—to realize I’ve not been doing as well as I thought.

   There’s an aspect of “survival mode” that’s not 
   serving me—nor anyone else for that matter—
   very well.

Yes, I do have routines, some of which entail a purpose: long walks with the dog; correspondence with family members and friends; volunteer letter writing to hospice patients; and, of course, my ever-present blogging and Facebook nonsense. 

But even with those pastimes keeping me busy, there’s a troubling undercurrent of inertia. An aspect of “survival mode” that’s not serving me—nor anyone else for that matter—very well. 

I suppose it’s something instinctive, a sense that in order to get through this prolonged uncertainty and “sheltering in place” I must somehow put my “real life” on hold. Like swimming the length of the pool underwater; basically everything stops but the swimming. Make it to the other side and only then can you come up for air.

Granted, we’ve all been, shall we say, encouraged to physically stay in the house, keep our distance and wear a mask. And, as one who’s especially vulnerable, that’s what my determination not to catch the C-bug tells me I must do. 

However, I’m afraid I’ve also let the virus keep me stuck indoors mentally and spiritually, and that’s what’s taking the greatest toll. It’s more about attitude than behavior. I guess when you’ve spent your whole life taking freedom for granted, even the slightest crimp in your comings and goings feels like a gradual suffocation. 

  These two-going-on-six months “on hold”…that’s 
  about one twentieth of my time left in this world.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of these MAGA-dunce-capped idiots demanding their God-given right to catch the virus and pass it on to whomever they like. No, I won’t soon be getting any closer than about ten feet to anyone. And I won’t stop sanitizing my groceries when they’re delivered. 

What I have done, though, is to take a cold, hard accounting of what spending these two-going-on-six months “on hold” means to a 75-year-old man. And the bottom line is that If I’m lucky enough to live another ten years, that’s about one twentieth of my time left in this world. And that’s enough to make me think.

There’s a point, isn’t there, at which what it takes to keep oneself alive might be worse than the risk of dying.

Sure, there are periods in one’s life where you have to hunker down for a while. Extremely hot or cold weather for example. But even on the coldest January morning, there’s a way to outfit oneself to safely venture out of the house. 

That’s how I have to think about this surreal time of uncertainty and paranoia. As if the virus were a huge pocket of that minus-30-degree arctic air we’re famous for here in Minnesota in January.

Yes, it keeps me from running out in shorts and flip flops to walk the dog. But as long as I put on my parka and a good pair of choppers, pretty much anything’s possible. And if one keeps doing anything long enough, it no longer seems like an imposition on one’s freedom; it simply becomes part of life.

So, instead of my attitude clawing its way back to normal only when this crisis is over, I must unlink the change from the outcome and replace the denial with acceptance. In other words, accept that many aspects of what I’ve been seeing as deprivation have become the new normal.

Just like my parka keeps me alive on that bitter cold January night, these masks, this distancing, this heightened awareness are the new garments of survival. And it’s entirely up to me how well they fit.

    Part of my not knowing what to do with 
    my spirit during this time comes from grief.

So now’s the time to recalculate, to start taking those risks with the biggest rewards, planning, as much as possible, how to take the dread out of them. Going back to actually physically entering the supermarket. Riding in the car with Sally, even though maybe only four feet apart. Having friends or family over for dinner.

Armed with the few N95 masks I have, a stringent touching and hand-washing protocol, Sally’s thoughtful measures to protect me, and a fairly good understanding of how the virus spreads and what blocks it, I can do this.

Resetting the “hold” button won’t all be about logistics. Part of the process will involve forgiveness, recognizing that some of my not knowing what to do with my spirit during this time has to do with grief…and the attendant guilt.

Many of us are not just mourning the loss of our relatively carefree “normal” lives, but empathizing with so many of our fellow human beings, near home and around the world, who we know are fighting for their lives and losing loved ones—most often in the cruelest of ways—to this disease.

Who are we, I often wonder, to even aspire to any kind of “normal” when so many of our fellow human beings have seen their lives turn so abnormally tragic. But we must go on, each in our own way, living lives that, at least in our hearts and souls, are free once again to grow, to dream, to celebrate.


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