In this time of quarantine, has your daily to-do list deteriorated to the point where it resembles one I saw on a recent YouTube video?
12 pm — Wake up
12:30 pm — Eat cookies
12:45 pm — Change into daytime pajamas…
Having recently been gifted two pairs of yoga pants, there are days when those comfortable, loose-fitting sweats certainly fill that daytime pajamas role for me.
Of course, many of our fellow citizens of the world don’t have the luxury of rising slowly with fewer demands on their time during this crisis. I have nieces who are juggling teaching their elementary school classes online while helping their own children with their schoolwork. My sister-in-law’s father passed away last weekend after a long illness where she was the primary caregiver. We have neighbors working from home while they juggle taking care of their active and inquisitive children. Our mail and packages and groceries don’t show up each day through magic, but because millions of Americans brave the virus and do their jobs to keep those lifelines open. The world’s health care workers are real front-line heroes, engaged 24/7 in this fight. Scientists are working long hours to find a vaccine in order to protect us as soon as possible.
I don’t point out the obvious to make those of us sheltering in place in some degree of comfort to feel bad. In a time of pandemic, we do well to remember, with a generous and loving heart, as many of those as possible who are working to keep our lives afloat.
Our perception is our reality. However, it is good to remember that our perceptions and the lessons learned out of our life stories are not universal. They drive our biases. They can also help to broaden awareness. Where everything seems new, we learn and grow not only through considering our own experiences and what our senses are telling us, but by hearing from a wide variety of voices. Experts, certainly. Historians, definitely. Others who have experienced some of what we now find as our new life, most assuredly.
One year ago I began my own type of uncoupling from the life I knew when I stepped down from a four-decade career to begin a gap year. I wanted to figure out what was next. Many of us find this time of pandemic and quarantine as a separation from all we thought to be true and normal. I’ve been thinking about what I learned over my past year of reflection and reset — often captured in my Gap Year Chronicles — that might be helpful in this crisis. Here are several quick notes, gleaned from my experiences and perspective during a gap year, that may be helpful to you in your time of separation.
- The past can provide hope for the future. The power of personal histories and stories remind us of hope in the face of suffering and hardship. We all have stories in our past that can provide hope for the future, if we do the work to dig them out.
- Cherish your connections, however you can make them. Many of us are having to make and maintain connections online as opposed to in person. And while there may be much good to come out of new ways of connecting, it is okay to understand and acknowledge the loss of those in-person conversations. David Kessler has said that the discomfort we’re feeling is grief. “The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.” No matter your stage in this crisis, cherish the time with friends.
- Be present. Being outside your normal routine is a good time to start focusing on the present. Regrets are about the past and anxiety is about the future. As a Zen Buddhist monk at Tenryu-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, told me on a visit last year, we can only really connect with who and what we are in the present.
- Create at the intersection of experience and innovation. We will each be pushed to think through new ways of doing things during times of crisis. The terms “new normal” and “reinvention” are bandied about with a great deal of frequency. Draw on your authenticity to think less about reinvention and more about forging ahead in ways that draw on your accumulated knowledge—what former Alvin Ailey star Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish describes as “all the things that life has put into you.”
- Bumpy roads often lead to beautiful places. Things can, and do, look bad, but much goodness can come out of difficult situations. Not every destination will be reached by traveling the superhighways of life.
- Listen more than you talk. When we are stressed, some of us have the tendency to talk without listening. In therapy circles, there is an acronym that has proven helpful to mental health professionals thinking about when to talk and when to listen. The acronym is W.A.I.T. It stands for: Why Am I Talking? It was Yogi Berra who said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
- Live a generous, grateful, and loving life. It is too easy to allow home confinement to drown us in negativity or escapism. Scientific studies show that we’re hardwired to care, but we have to nurture that impulse. There are many things we can do while quarantined to show love and generosity: call our friends more frequently; set up a daily video chat with someone who is alone; offer to pick up groceries for a neighbor who is housebound. The possibilities are limited not by our physical confinement, but by our lack of imagination.
- Thankfulness. If I had just one piece of advice to give to colleagues, friends, and family at any time, but especially now, it would be pretty simple. Say “Thank you.” Say it early and often. Gratefulness is a recognition that we all count on the kindness of others: friends and strangers alike. It is also key to a deeper understanding of grace. Gratitude never runs out. The more you give away, the more you have to share.
It is easy, as we are isolated, to suppress the urge toward empathy and gratitude in order to focus on our own selves and those closest to us. But getting through this crisis is going to require resilience and innovation. We still need human connections and we should cultivate a long-term orientation. Successful passage is also going to require a generous mindset.
Stay safe and well this week.
More to come…
Installment #26 of The Gap Year Chronicles.