Facing the Fears

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I’ve noticed a number of people being very honest about their anxieties with regard to Covid-19. I was raised to be stoic about such things. My mom never complained or showed her worries until she had a mental breakdown and then in a state of psychosis she could not stop talking about her fears. I suppose that it was that point in life when I realized that we should not have to keep our concerns to ourselves. Bearing the unbearable alone does not always lead to a situation as dramatic as my mom’s was, but it can have both physical and emotional consequences that sap the very energy out of a person. I think it is quite healthy of my friends to admit that they are worried and afraid. I admire them for asking for help in dealing with the losses and frustrations that they are feeling.

I’ve been rocking along being rather proud of myself for bearing up and adjusting to the temporary normal of Covid-19. I’ve kept myself busy, made sure that my husband’s recovery from recent surgery has been smooth and upbeat, created distance learning for my math students, checked on members of my family and circle of friends, kept a written record of this historical event, and generally rolled with the ever changing punches that we are experiencing. I had considered myself to be immune from crushing worries because I’ve handled many crises in my lifetime. So it was a wake up call when I had a dream a view nights ago that made me realize that I was a bit more concerned than I have been willing to admit.

My nightmare began in my old home on Anacortes Street. I was a younger version of myself and my two girls were still children. As I walked down the street to meet them at the bus stop after school I waved at my neighbor Betty Turner who was smiling at me from a lawn chair in her front yard. I told Betty I would be back in a few minutes and I would sit with her and have a little chat. The school bus pulled up just as I arrived at the corner and my daughters hopped off with their book bags and lunch boxes. I was happy to see them and I gave them both hugs before starting back home. That’s when the fun or, should I say, the horror began.

Somehow our straight and quick pathway had become blocked and we had to take an alternate route. At first I wasn’t worried because I knew the area well and there was more than one way to get back home. Unfortunately no matter what I tried we could not find a way to the safety of our house. In fact we were getting farther and farther away and I was doing my best not to frighten my children. Instead I attempted to turn our adventure into a game which worked for a time but eventually they grew weary and begged me to take them home so that they might rest and see their friends and enjoy some playtime.

I kept trying my best to protect them from the reality of our situation but it was beginning to feel hopeless. Our wandering even took us back to the old neighborhood where I grew up and when I searched there for someone to help I only found strangers who ignored me when I attempted to speak to them. I was exhausted and on the verge of hysteria when I awoke and realized that it was all just a dream, but it helped me to understand that I had been denying the impact that this pandemic was having on me and the people that I love.

I suppose that most of us are longing for the comfort of that yesterday before any of this happened. As a mom I still worry about my still grown and very capable daughters. I long to see them and hug them and protect them. It’s difficult for all of us to be so separated and to feel so helpless. I am a person who takes control of situations and suddenly much of that control is in the hands of others. For now I am mostly doing what I can from afar and not being the responsible person in the room makes me feel a bit lost.

My dream has helped me to visualize and vocalize my fears. I don’t intend to dwell on them because that is not my style, but by allowing myself to feel them I have become stronger in my resolve not to allow any of this to defeat me. I think that it is important for each of us to find that honest part of our minds and then deal with the demons that haunt us. It really is okay to long for the normal times and want to rewind to a happier moment. It’s normal to want to protect our children even if they are grown. It’s a very human thing to want to get back to a dear friend like Betty where we can just sit and feel ourselves returning to a sense of safety and contentment that feels threatened by the specter of Covid-19.

I think of myself as a superwoman and I know I have a backbone of steel, but I am in reality just as human as anyone. I believe that it will be our very humanity and empathy that gets us through this crazy time. I’m thankful for all those dear souls who have been courageous enough to admit their fears. They have helped me and others. If we are honest we all know that hearing someone voice the feelings that we have pent up inside assuages our own worries. There is nothing more normal than being a bit anxious right now. Once I admitted it to myself I knew that I would be okay. It’s time to keep calm and remember to practice self care.

Living In the Twilight Zone

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Do any of the rest of you feel as though we have been caught in an infinite loop of The Twilight Zone? I know I do. I find that I awake each morning feeling rather good until my brain reminds me that nothing is exactly as it was only a couple of weeks ago. I won’t be planning a camping excursion any time soon nor will a trip to the grocery store be as unremarkable as I had grown accustomed to it being. As long as I am in the quiet and safety of my home I don’t feel anxious at all but as soon as I turn my attention to the outside world I am stunned by the extent to which we are all grappling with the unknown and my cockeyed optimism is rattled just a bit more.

I keep thinking of Rod Serling’s greatest stories and how they have stuck with me even though they seemed to be only the stuff of science fiction, unlikely to ever transpire. There is the tale of the young woman stuck in her New York apartment as the world is slowly and painfully coming to an end. Then I remember episode featuring a man who is a lone survivor of some cataclysm making the best of the situation by planning to read away his loneliness only to drop and break the eyeglasses that allow him to see. When I see the photos of empty shelves in grocery stores I am reminded of Serling’s take on the effects of panic in a cautionary story of a once friendly neighborhood that turns on itself at the first sign of trouble. Those shows had a way of stunning us with their shocking endings but we never thought that any of the creative scenarios might possibly come true.

Let’s face it. Despite all of our past grumblings about the unfairness of the world most of us would be more than happy to rewind to September 2019 if only we might never have to face the unraveling of the world that has slowly enveloped all of us in fear. It’s difficult to go the the dark possibility that maybe things will never be quite the same again. If there were indeed a way to undo all that has happened would we remember how it felt to be threatened with loss and privation? Would we be more willing to be appreciative of our good fortune and then share it with those who have not been as lucky? Would we be more attuned to working together to solve problems. Would we always be generous and less wasteful, eager to slow down to enjoy our families and our friends? Would we treasure life more now that we have seen how fragile it and our institutions can become? Would we be able to see how destructive our hubris can sometimes be and begin to value our differences?

The human experience is riddled  with instances of grave mistakes as well as stunning victories over injustice and evil. We seem to slowly work our way toward better versions of ourselves as long as we don’t get lost to temptations that interfere with our focus. We work best together when we are willing to tap into our more enlightened natures by a willingness to admit that we rarely have all of the answers. Perhaps we have been moving too quickly of late. Maybe we have been to busy competing with one another and building resumes of our accomplishments that are not particularly important. We have scurried about too quickly, forgetting to take the time to be still and hear the beating of our hearts and see the simple beauty that surrounds us.

This is indeed the most incredible event of my lifetime and I have seen quite a bit in my seventy one years. It has the potential to define us in the long stretch of history. We will eventually move on from this, but will we have learned from it? I know that I have been continually reminded of the wonderful people who are part of my life during the last few weeks. I have felt their love surrounding me. I want to cherish that feeling and never forget what it has meant to me. My hope is that the whole world will find renewed pleasure in the simple act of spreading kindness and understanding every moment of every day.

I am not so naive as to believe that this is a kumbayah moment in which humankind will shed every aspect of its darker side. People have endured plagues, wars, economic depressions and holocausts many times in the past and yet we still haven’t found a way to prevent those things from ever happening again. We fall back into our bad habits again and again which is why I find it somewhat hypocritical to denounce our ancestors when our own modern track record is not free from sins. Instead we must attempt to learn from mistakes and rectify them as best we can.

We’ve seen hoarders and thieves and individuals who have attacked Asians in the misplaced belief that they are somehow responsible for our present woes. At the same time we have witnessed even more signs of generosity, courage, brilliance and understanding. When all is said and done these are the qualities that will remind us of who are and should be as the human race.  Our questions right now should not dwell on judging others, but rather on how each of us might help. These are the things that will provide us with the optimism we need to build the future and take us out of the twilight zone.

   

Staying Apart To Come Together

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I am admittedly impatient. My personality is such that I prefer taking control of situations. I don’t like to like to wait around to see what is going to happen. I want to make a difference right now, do something to make things better not just for me but for others. When things take too long I become indignant and do everything possible to fix them immediately. Suddenly I’m caught up in a worldwide flood of uncertainty along with millions of my fellow humans while a tiny virus, invisible to the naked eye, is wreaking havoc and spreading fear. I’m watching life as we have all known it being put on hold. I am forced to reach deep inside of my psyche to find patience that I don’t always have.  Already the waiting challenges my normal need of control. Enforced social distancing leaves me to my thoughts which are racing in their usual breakneck pattern that tends to occur with or without a worldwide emergency. 

I am an empath, someone who literally feels others’ pain. I worry incessantly about how events will affect the people that I love. In all honesty I’ve had a very good run of seventy one years on this earth and if I were to contract the coronavirus and leave for heaven I’d want everyone to celebrate the wonder of my life and not waste tears. It’s the young folk and the future that concern me and I understand how tough and confusing this must feel to them, and even a bit unfair. I know all too well that you don’t always get what you want and that a bit of adversity toughens the spirit. I’ve been there done that more times than I care to remember and I’ve survived quite nicely, but I would not wish what is happening on any of our youth. Nor would I ever want them to know the bitter disappointments that have impacted my own life even though it is certain that they will have their own trials.

My seasonal allergies are causing my nose to run and my throat to hurt. I have no fever but I wonder if that weight on my chest is only evidence of the anxieties that have arisen in my mind or a sign that I’ve somehow contracted the virus. I know that I am overthinking this situation, but it is the way my mind operates. I am a teacher. I am trained to plan ahead, to see a thousand different things happening all at once, to know what my students are feeling, to be able to shift gears in a nanosecond, to be ever alert and protective, to take charge when danger lurks. I’ve already turned a room in my home into a virtual classroom. I will continue to work with my grandchildren and the little group of home-schooled children to whom I teach mathematics. I will keep calm and carry on, but I think about the impact that all of this will have on the youngest among us and I know that we will have to remember them and comfort them.

There are all of those youngsters who have spent months raising livestock to show at the Houston rodeo. I have two grandchildren who do such things. I know that they arise before dawn so that they will have time to feed and care for their animals before going to school. In the evening when they are tired and have mountains homework to do they must return to the barn again to repeat the process. They shortened summer vacations and Christmas visits with relatives because the animals depended on them. They spent a fortune in feed and veterinarian bills. The experience taught them to be dependable and no price can be placed on that, but the culmination of their hard work is to show their goats and pigs and steers and get recognition and money for their efforts that they set aside into their savings accounts for college or to purchase the next animal. What will happen now?

Hopefully there will be kind souls who make things right for them, but what about the other teens who have worked hard on projects about which most people are unaware?I’m talking about someone like my grandson who has been running since he was a little tyke in elementary school who earned the record for speed in his physical education class. Now he is a junior in high school at the peak of his skill. He runs all year long, even in the heat of summer to be ready to demonstrate his prowess in the spring track season. This is his junior year. If he is to catch the notice of a university that might be willing to offer him a scholarship it needs to happen now, but there may be no now for him. He’s been consistently winning in the few competitions that have already been held but what will happen to the rest of the season?

There is my granddaughter whose Vet Tech team was almost certainly headed to the state competition. They have worked incredibly hard and getting to the finals is more than just an honor. It is a way of getting FFA scholarships which require winners to have made it to at least one state run off. She worries that the opportunity for which she and her teammates have been working may never come.

Then there is another grandson who has been staying at school until well after nine at night to practice with the indoor percussion group of his band. They were slated to perform at a national competition in Ohio and the odds were rather good that they would earn a prize. Now that trip and future performances have been canceled and their efforts are in limbo.

Two other grandsons were supposed to receive their Aggie rings from Texas A&M University on April 18. This is a grand tradition celebrating thousands of hours of studying and learning. Now the rest of the semester on campus has been suspended. All classes will resume online. They must return home to uncertainty and a way of learning that doesn’t always work well for everyone.

So it is for our young all across the nation. Stories like those of my grandchildren’s are being repeated again and again. Not just disappointment but missed opportunities are suddenly the rule when only a week or so ago their plans seemed so exciting. While these sacrifices are nothing compared to the tragedy of those who are sick and dying, we should not minimize the impact that this will have on their futures.

To make matters worse we know that an even more pressing question concerns what will happen to the millions of working people who cannot earn a living from the solitude of their homes. What will happen to the hairdressers if the clients fail to come? How will the service industry stay afloat while social distancing becomes the norm? What will happen in my city, the energy capital of the nation, if the price of oil continues to tank? When will those 401ks stop bleeding form loss? Will the Teachers’ Retirement System be able to weather the disruption? Will the economy collapse in our effort to save lives? It’s suddenly a whole new world, a mind boggling reality unlike anything we have experienced, but it would be familiar to our grandparents. We need to remember their stories and the ways that they approached life. There is wisdom in the way they lived.

I have every confidence in myself, in the young and in the people of the world. We are a resilient lot and we will endure and overcome the challenges wrought by our current state of affairs, but I do not fool myself into believing that it will be easy. We are in for some difficult times and each and everyone of us will need to be ready to help and to rethink the way we have always done things.

I’ve already witnessed some promising ideas. There are school districts that plan to offer food service pickup to the families of students who need it along with online classes. There are good people who are already offering to purchase the livestock from those kids who were literally caught off guard by the cancellation of the rodeo. Teachers are revamping their lessons. Companies are finding alternative ways of doing business. Schedules are being redone. I even heard of a way to help our local business owners by purchasing gift certificates from them online to be used when this disruption has finally blown over. The important thing is to remember to check on your neighbors, call your friends, find out what members of your family may need. Be patient. Be kind. We are in for a bumpy ride and impatient souls like me will have to learn how to wait but with efforts by most everyone I believe we will ultimately be fine. As someone has said this experiment in social distancing may be the very thing that we need to come together.

Finding Our True Roles

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Shakespeare eloquently reminds us that all the world’s a stage and like members of an ensemble cast we each play many different roles in our lifetimes. The demands on us keep us busy and sometimes even a bit confused about who it is that we truly wish to be as we juggle schedules that sometimes force us to run from dawn to the last hours before we fall asleep. Setting priorities, enforcing limits, choosing what is most important can be more difficult than we might imagine as we encounter duties, demands and requests for our precious time. Balancing the needs of others with our own is often one of the most overwhelming tasks that we may encounter and so we often find ourselves hurrying through our days in a state of exhaustion dreaming of a time when we might take control of our schedules and lighten our loads.

People’s roles in life used to be a bit more rigidly delineated. The men went to work each day and the women stayed home taking care of the household and the children. Each person had carefully defined purposes that were decided more by accident of birth and societal norms than personal choice. Sadly the traditions never really worked for many who felt constrained by norms that overlooked individual desires and dreams, particularly with regard to the ladies. Over time the idea of allowing each person to determine his/her own purpose became more and more commonplace with the hope that in allowing increased freedom of expression we would generally be happier as a society, but it sometimes seems as though we have only created new barriers to finding the best life for each person.

Instead of encouraging one another to embrace themselves we have created expectations that all too often make daily life more difficult and less satisfying than ever. We have constructed artificial templates for success that can seem impossible to achieve. It’s now a “you can do it all and have it all” kind of world that leaves some wondering why things are not working for them. We see the so called icons of achievement advancing in careers, maintaining seemingly perfect families, working out regularly at gyms, cooking healthy gourmet meals, volunteering for various causes with boundless energy and we wonder why we can’t keep up with the pace of their enviable lives. Instead we are exhausted from trying so hard to meet the new standards and maybe even feeling as though we are failing at every turn. Little do we realize that the lives of the rich and successful are not always as wonderful as they seem. Keeping up an image of paradise is wrought with many obligations that may create more dissatisfaction than happiness.

Little wonder that Prince Harry and his beautiful wife, Meghan, have decided to eschew the so called fairytale life of a royal in search of something more meaningful. They have rather wisely determined that the only way to be masters of their own fate is to strike out on their own. They will of course learn that living to the beat of their own drum is riddled with its own complications, but having the courage to make their own choices is the start of a journey toward self satisfaction and happiness.

The reality is that no one person can or should do it all. We each have to decide how much we can actually handle before coming undone. That means that we will have to just say “no” now and again if we are to control the aspects of our lives that mean the most to us. The wise person is one who understands what he/she needs to do or not do to maintain a sense of purpose without becoming overwhelmed.

I know that I am happiest when I have an equal measure of time for myself and for others. I need quiet moments to contemplate and recharge but I also feel best when I have done something meaningful outside of myself. I’ve learned that I just have to be careful not to overdo either being alone or working into a frenzy. These days I’ve become more adept at listening to both my body and my mind for clues that I am taking on more than I should. Those pains in my hip or anxious moments of insomnia remind me that I have to let something go. Like Harry and Meghan I choose what roles I most want and need to perform.

My most basic human roles remain my most important and they all revolve around family and friends. I am first and foremost a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. My instinct is to drop everything else when someone who is a member of my circle is in need. Somehow no other task feels as important as helping a loved one. In that regard my role in life is as traditional as such things have always been. Nonetheless, when the situation permits I need to express my talents, my creativity. I find great joy in writing, in helping someone to learn, in being a kind of amateur counselor. I enjoy making the world that inhabit a bit more beautiful which means decorating, gardening, cooking. I must also feed my soul with reading and learning. Finally I push myself to keep my body in good condition, my least favorite role but one that is important for carrying out the other aspects of my life that bring me so much joy. When I feel overwhelmed I begin to shave away my obligations one at a time until I reach a comfortable feeling of stasis.

If I had one message for young people just beginning their journeys into adulthood it would be to understand that life is about the choices that we make. The important thing is to seek those roles that bring joy and happiness along with healthy bodies and minds. Learning how to strike a balance that allows us to weather difficult times is critical to our wellbeing, and only each individual truly knows what that must be. There are many acts in our lives that require us to play many roles, the best among them are the ones that reflect our true passions.    

Loss

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“Loss” is a four letter word not meant to be a pejorative like the infamous ones that sometimes get us into trouble, but with a meaning so profound that it has the power to leave us unable to function in any normal way. Like the layers of an onion loss takes on deeper and deeper significance as we get closer to its core, and like that same onion it sometimes makes us cry. For me, loss is the ultimate trigger for stress whether it is directly affecting me or someone that I love.

Loss can appear to be superficial as in the inability to find something important, a receipt, a jacket, a favorite book, a prized heirloom. I grow anxious whenever I can’t find something that I treasure.

Somewhere in the move from my house of over thirty years to the one where I now reside I lost a gold charm bracelet that my husband had given me when we were dating. A heart dangled from the forged links and engraved on it were the numbers signifying our first date with the words “Now and Forever” reminding me of our infinite bond of love. My stressors went into high gear when I ultimately accepted the fact that it was gone and I grieved that I would never see it again, but it was in the final analysis only the loss of an object, a symbol of something far deeper than the thing itself. Still, I know that when we lose something special it saddens us and justifiably so.

When the walls and ceilings of my rooms were flooded by the sudden rush of hot liquid from my hot water heater I became a messy gooey ball of stress. My imagination became a fertile ground for turning this inconvenient bit of loss into a major event. I worried that mold would grow in the nooks and crannies of my walls rendering my house unlivable and unsaleable. I could not rest until I had ripped carpet and sheetrock from the the wettest areas. My impatience in finding someone who would quickly repair the damage grew into full blown anger. The situation consumed the thoughts of my days and nights. I had to remind myself that it was only a temporary loss, one that would eventually be set right. I calmed the beast roaring inside my mind with the truth that I had only lost things, replaceable stuff.

The greatest loss is the death of loved ones. Nothing ever really fixes that. Time superficially heals but the pain but grief lives inside the heart. Such tragic loss is the most difficult aspect of our human experience, even when we actually believe in a more glorious afterlife. We soldier on without the people who have gone before us but we never really forget them and in moments that come and go we remember how much it hurts to accept that we will never see them again. Such is loss that produces more than just stress. It tears at our very souls.

Loss is all around us. Even when it happens to someone else we feel the pain and stress that comes with it. We know that it engenders powerful emotions whether it is the loss of something seemingly insignificant or of a living being. We instinctively empathize with the person who is undergoing distress over loss because we too have felt such emotions and we understand.

Loss is such a small word and yet it stalks us like a powerful monster. We lose hope, confidence, reputation, control. We struggle with fears of loss. Like the nightmare that it sometimes is, loss creates anxieties and worries. It is a trigger that has the power to temporarily or permanently undo us, but our nature is to fight against its inclinations. We do our best to deal with it until the next time that it returns.

January presented itself with loss. I was unable to find the mate to a set of earrings. That was annoying but not the worst situation. When both a beloved aunt and a magical cousin died within days of one another I felt the weight of true loss. I grieved for myself but mostly for those closest to these incredible women, their immediate families who are struggling with the enormity of their losses. I felt the horror of those who lost their homes in a freak explosion that occurred early one morning. I saw a long road of repair and possibly even momentous change ahead for them. I awoke to the terrible news that two of my most wonderful friends had lost the use of their own bodies when they had strokes. I cried with the nation over the untimely death of Kobe Bryant and the eight souls who perished with him.

I suppose that loss is perhaps the greatest trigger for stress in our lives. When it piles on us we lose our sense of direction. We find it difficult to find the way out and yet we also know from experience that we need not be defeated. It may take time and great patience but we can find escape the darkness that has descended upon us. The loss may be forever but the way that we react to it can and does become more bearable.

Winter came in January, a time when some among us endured losses both great and small. We take a deep breath. We embrace one another. We find ways to soothe our souls. The cycle continues and we continue down the road of life knowing that we will eventually find the peace and tranquility that will set us in the right direction once again.  Loss challenges but we need not allow it to defeat.