An invitation to slow down and connect
Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend that triggered a lot for me. The mother of a mutual friend of ours, who has been in remission for about a year, just discovered that her cancer is back. As someone who recently lost my own mother to cancer, and knowing how hard that was in “normal” times, the prospect of receiving this news in the midst of our current reality of social distancing and wanting to avoid the hospital at all costs made me want to do something comforting for my friend and her family. I reached out to another friend to see if she felt like working together to come up with something for our mutual friend. When I say “working together,” I mean together apart, given our ongoing reality of social distancing. My friend’s response was “is it essential?” It took me the entire rest of the day to move through the emotions that her question brought up in me. I felt angry, confused, frustrated and helpless. The question that kept rising in my chest was: Is this what we have come to? Only doing for others what is deemed essential?
I realize we need to be careful. I have now been home alone for four weeks, apart from the highlight of my week when I get dressed in something other than workout clothes, apply lipstick, and go get groceries. Occasionally, when I feel energetic enough and the sun is shining, I take a walk or run down to the boardwalk from my home for fresh air (while maintaining safe social distancing, of course). I don’t do things that don’t seem “essential” for myself. I don’t, for example, join the long lineup of cars in the Starbucks drive through, although I admit that I have gazed at it longingly as I drive past. It would be momentarily comforting, because it would remind me of what life was like before Covid-19. But no matter how I spin it, my desire for the comfort of a hot chocolate does not make exposing a poorly paid student to the possibility of the virus “essential.”
After my brief conversation with my friend yesterday, I started reflecting on what I do consider “essential” right now, and realized that this is no doubt completely different for each of us. For me, the time I spend sipping my first cup of tea and writing my morning pages is essential–it allows me to ease into my day, get my thoughts and ideas and goals down on paper, and helps me get focused. Exercise is another essential in my book, because it keeps my spirits up and makes sure my body stays strong and healthy. Fresh produce from local farmers is another essential for me–both because it makes sure I have the ingredients with which to prepare healthy meals, and because supporting my local farming community so that they are able to continue growing food for us all is non-negotiable in my book. It means more stops when I go out to buy groceries because I can no longer get all my produce at the farmers’ market, which has been temporarily shut down. But if I want my farmers to survive this season, my allocation of any income I do have to supporting them is necessary.
Other things that are essential to me: being respectful of my neighbours by not blaring music late at night, and reaching out to them and communicating politely and clearly when there is something we need to negotiate; getting enough rest; connecting with friends by phone or via zoom meetings so that I maintain some level of human connection; time to pray and meditate every morning and evening; self-compassion when I cannot focus on my work; checking in with friends who have been attempting to work and homeschool their children for weeks now, and who deserve awards for their hard work, flexibility, and patience (in my childless, humble opinion); patience with the airlines who are totally overwhelmed, while like so many others, I try to cancel the trip I was due to leave on this coming week….
Respecting the guidelines laid out by my local healthcare officials is essential, yes. But there is nothing about doing so that says that we should allow our fear and anxiety to undermine our humanity, and the most basic expression of this to me is supporting others (perhaps in more creative ways than we used to given the social distancing directives) who are going through tough times. Is it essential to love? I would say yes, it is. Love takes many forms. Some days it looks like people on balconies banging on pots and pans in gratitude to our healthcare workers, and playing music to uplift spirits. Other days it means picking up groceries for an elderly or sick neighbour who cannot shop for themselves. It may mean contributing to fundraisers for medical supplies, or doing our grocery shopping during the week instead of on the weekend so that we do not all turn up to get groceries at the same time. It also looks like finding ways to support and encourage a friend whose mother’s cancer has returned during a global pandemic.
So yes, challenging ourselves us to push beyond the limitations of our own individual safety in order to achieve a greater collective wellbeing is “essential” for me, as are compassion and empathy. If we don’t come out of this experience with a greater capacity for love and mutual-support; if we let our fear dictate what is essential, then rather than coming out of this time with a deeper understanding of how to care for each other, we will emerge having lost something truly essential.
And you? What do you consider “essential” right now?
Empathy and love are always essential responses. Good questions you raised.