Sunday, 12 June 2022

Answering Lynnette’s question

A few days ago I happened upon Lynnette Horner’s blog entitled: “The Pandemic is Kinda Sorta Over. Have we learned anything?”

Her blog is not about case numbers or hospitalizations or anything like that. It’s about what people have - or haven’t - learned about themselves, and how they treat each other. To put it simply.

Lynnette’s question is big, and provocative. She does her best to answer it for herself. There is something very moving about a person honestly talking about the state of their mind and soul. I guess I can start by saying one thing I have learned from the pandemic, is how healing it is to interact with people who are willing to share and explore this vulnerability.

Lynnette writes extensively on how important it is to pay attention to what we are paying attention to:

To be “slow to judge, quicker to make allowances for people under stress, and more prone to turn to God than to fear and anxiety,” as Lynnette hopes she does, requires one to swim against that current of negativity. Certainly this is true in my experience. I also deal with a variety of challenging people every day. The good part is that I get lots and lots of practice. The less good part is that it does wear me down. I’m feeling quite exhausted right now: for over a month, actually. There are a few people that I have been really struggling to relate to positively. When I try to think of an alternative all I can come up with is “I’m tired. Too much!”

In some ways, the “end”* of the pandemic feels harder to me than the beginning. In my part of the world, there are fewer specifically Covid-related interruptions to life compared to last year. Almost all restrictions have been dropped. Whether or not one considers that a good thing, there has been more return to “normal,” and everyone I know has taken advantage of it, to varying degrees. They returned to recreational activities; they went to restaurants; they flew planes to vacation destinations; or they just visited friends and family more.

But everywhere people are worn out and worn down. Trust in everything and everyone is eroded. I dug a bit into that idea here, hypothesizing that trust is based in large part on tradition, convention and familiarity: we believe what authorities say because we have done so in the past and it mostly worked, and also they mostly say the same things. Covid-19 and the response upended that: it seemed like everything was questioned and done differently. There was an opportunity there: to do things differently and better. I know professionally, I have tried (and often succeeded) in improving my practice and relationships. But it’s hard (probably impossible) as an individual to overcome the systemic distrust. Like Lynnette’s daughter, I have witnessed people willing to just unload their rage and pain on the nearest target. It’s very destructive.

I have also come to the same insight as Lynnette: it is essential to be aware of what you are watching/viewing/listening to. Like her, I have become sensitive to fluctuations in my emotions, not (hopefully) with the result of becoming fixated on myself but to perceive how I am being affected by my physical, social and media environment. When I notice a lot of anger, despair or frustration it is a cue to switch my focus. Not to abandon the situation or whatever responsibility I have, but to adjust how I am interacting with it. This is not just about “self care”, though it is that. It’s also about being able to remain functional, responsive and integrated into my environment.  It’s about survival and the creation of reality.

Lynnette puts it more succinctly.


What have I been filling myself with?

  • Being a “joiner” and participating in real world community. Family, work, recreational, and online to some degree (but very conservatively: I ceased most social media activity in January 2021)
  • Depth reading and more writing and conversation. Avoiding the temptation to react impulsively, while paying attention to what the “big questions” in my heart are. (It gets easier with practice and encouragement.)
  • I have been deliberately exploring Christianity in the past two years (longer than that if you count not being deliberate). Lynnette Horner’s article is of course written from an Orthodox Christian perspective,  and many of the writers and podcasters I read/listen to share that faith. I have found it helpful. What does that mean? One thing is that the ideas stick at least partly in my mind on my worst days, and it can make the difference between swimming and drowning. Another is I am more alert to patterns in the world and how I am participating in  them. Perhaps most importantly it’s a reminder that I can’t and I won’t do everything on my own, and I don’t have to.
  • I am learning to give up the idea that I can or should control outcomes in the world. I try to act with good judgment and intention, more often than not. But after that it’s not in my control. Other people are not in my control. It is also not my job to punish or condemn them for not being what I want.** Something good about this approach: I have much less anxiety about being wrong. Often I am wrong, often others are wrong. It doesn’t stop me from doing some good in this moment.
  • I am trying to get in the habit of offering real assistance to people who are struggling. Not just words, but a meal, or time, or effort. I’ve also let people do that for me. It might sound weird but this is not always easy for me as I tend to assume that my assistance is not wanted or needed, and I fear giving offence or being rejected. This is part of learning to accept that we all actually need each other, somehow. We can’t always just buy our way out of every problem, even if we are lucky enough to have a lot of resources (and that’s certainly not a given anymore). Everybody will one day have a crisis where they need the person next to them, whoever they are. (A good reason not to flip out at that person, too, or judge them on something stupid.)
  • Because I’m doing my best to be honest, I have to say I also spend a lot of time thinking about my clothes and planning new outfits. I like to show up for my social, political and existential crises looking sharp, and Covid was no exception.***
I don’t know how to end this. Probably because it’s not over. Maybe this is actually a beginning. I never really know, except in retrospect. 50, 60 or 70 year old me (if I’m that fortunate) may look back and know exactly what was going on right now. I don’t have that perspective.

So I suppose I will just thank Lynnette, and everyone who has helped me so far, and also the people who have been difficult or in conflict (because in a funny way they end up having a part to play too) and carry on.

*I don’t know that it’s the end of people getting sick. Doesn’t feel like it: I have been sick A LOT, although not with Covid. But it does feel like the end of something. 

**One of my most horrifying and revolting experiences of the last 2 years was seeing how a mob behaves when they think they have justification to condemn and punish a person. I thought about it (if you can call such a process thought: it feels more like a kind of psychological death) and I know I can’t ever justify behaving with the same vindictiveness, not even to the worst in people. So I have had to look for a way of living that gives me a way out.

***if you could see inside my brain on any given day: 1/3 is thinking about spiritual and religious stuff, meaning-of-life matters. Because that is where I’m at. 1/3 is planning my next outfit. And the last third is just dealing with what’s coming at me in the moment.

2 comments:

  1. It's such a strange time at the moment. So many people are acting like the pandemic is over and don't want to hear any mention of "covid", like they give you an angry look if you even mention it. I don't like to think about it either but it's still at the back of my mind and I have a lot of anxiety around the future until I know for sure that the pandemic is actually over

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    1. Indeed. There are so many things clamouring for our attention that it's hard to know what is the most important. I find I need to begin by looking inward and around my life and community to see what is needed. Then (maybe!) I look at the bigger picture and see what stories are playing out. There is much anger and anxiety around and I try to give it lots and lots of space and grace when I encounter it.

      My mom recently moved into a seniors' residence and Covid is very much still an issue there, as it spreads so fast. They still have restrictions in place even though there are none in the broader society at this point. It's difficult on many levels (but so far no one is seriously ill, so that's good.)

      I finally caught Covid too, at the end of a long exhausting period of other illnesses. This may sound terrible but I was actually relieved to see the positive test, because it was an excuse to stay home and rest for a few days. Doing better now!

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