Reality Check

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and I believe that is true.  We all know how much damage this pandemic has brought, so there’s no need for me to rehash that, especially since I believe we’re all on “negative news overload” these days.  But I have learned a few things from this situation, and some of those lessons will serve me well long after this whole mess is over and done with.

For one thing, I will never again let my house be without a month’s supply of disinfectant, a freezer full of food, and tons of toilet paper.  Before 2020, I thought that the way to prepare for a natural disaster was to have an adequate supply of flashlights, batteries, water and, if at all possible, a generator.  If a snowstorm was predicted, I added bread and milk to that list.  But this year, I’ve learned that the way to react to an new virus is to rush out and buy all the toilet paper I can cram into my shopping cart, as long as I leave room for a container of sanitizing wipes.

I’ve discovered that wearing a face mask isn’t as uncomfortable as I had thought, especially once I found some that fit right.  (I’m not sure why I thought they’d be “once size fits all,” since faces certainly aren’t.)  And as an added bonus, I’ve learned that when you’re a woman of a certain age, a face mask can hide a whole lot of things.  Suffice it to say that I don’t have many wrinkles on my forehead, so really, a face mask isn’t such a bad look for me.  If I could just get one that comes with an anti-aging cream on the inside of it, I’d be all set.

I’ve learned that politicians aren’t afraid to take advantage of a bad situation in order to get free publicity, especially during an election year.  I suspect that most of the daily press briefings we’re seeing will last at least until November, even if this virus doesn’t.  I’ve learned that some people don’t believe in following the rules, no matter how dire the situation happens to be.  I already knew that many of us have a hard time listening to different opinions, but I’ve learned that when people are frustrated and afraid, their levels of intolerance can skyrocket.  And since the things we say and do now are going to be remembered for a long time, it’s best to choose wisely.

But the most important thing I’ve learned is how much of what we think and feel during a crisis comes from our own particular situation and the circumstances we and our loved ones are in.  As the saying goes, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.”  The pandemic and its quarantines are hurting everybody, but in different ways and to different degrees.  Some of us are on a big ocean liner, barely feeling the waves.  Others are in a tiny rowboat with no oars, being tossed around in the water and having no idea how, or if, we’re going to survive this.  And most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes.

So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, all I can say is this:  now is the time to be gentle with ourselves, and accepting of our emotions.  It’s the time to be tolerant of others and to think before we speak, post, or act.  It’s a time to be brave, even when facing very real fears.  Because when we’re moving toward an uncertain future, as almost all of us are, one of the few things we know for certain is that kindness, compassion and wisdom helps.  It always has, and it always will.

Hanging On

My area has been under a Shelter at Home order for approximately five weeks, with no end in sight.  I’m not going to lie, maintaining a positive attitude gets harder with each passing day, and sometimes I manage it better than others.

Worry about the virus is bad enough, but seeing how people are reacting to that worry can be downright alarming.  Social media is full of experts who know just exactly what we all ought to be doing, and who are telling us just that in CAPITAL LETTERS because we all know that our point is made so much better when we yell in the printed word.   Name-calling is rampant, apparently based on the belief that calling someone we disagree with an idiot is a sure-fire way to convince them of the error of their ways.  Obviously, there is a lot going on right now to make us anxious and to keep us anxious for a very long time.

Which is why I have decided that it is incredibly important that I practice kindness, tolerance and compassion just as much as I possibly can.  Even when I don’t want to….or maybe especially when I don’t want to, because when I’m angry or frustrated I’m so much more likely to say something that hurts someone else.  And there’s more than enough pain in the world right now without me adding to it.

One way or another, nearly everyone is hurting.  Those who have lost a loved one to this virus; those who know they are especially vulnerable to catching the virus; those who are slowly but surely going broke from the restrictions; and those who are losing their battle with depression, chronic anxiety or addictions as these restrictions drag on.  It’s easy for those who are financially stable to dismiss the concerns of those who are sinking into poverty, and it’s easy for those who are relatively young and healthy dismiss the concerns of those who aren’t.  Someone else’s pain is always so much easier to bear than our own.   But shame on us if we allow ourselves pretend it simply doesn’t exist.

I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m not interested in debating the details with anyone.  I’m no expert in contagious diseases or the economy, and I have no way of predicting the future.  All I know is that the best shot we have of moving forward as a society is to work together to we try our hardest to beat this virus and minimize the damage that it’s causing for all of us.  And we can’t do that if we’re all hunkered down in our own little bubble, busy lashing out at those who don’t share it with us.

There’s so much I can’t control right now, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise.  But I can control my words and my actions, and I can make sure I’m not making a bad situation even worse by adding to someone else’s pain.  So I’m going to try very, very, hard to be kind.  First to myself, because now is absolutely the time to indulge in a little self-care.  And then I’m going to try being kind to others, even those whose attitude I can’t begin to understand.  Because like it or not, we really are “all in this together.”

Legacy

fullsizeoutput_b0When I was a kid, I often heard my grandparents talk about the Great Depression.  I grew up knowing that my grandfather felt very fortunate to be a dentist, because that was something that was always needed, even in hard times.  He had to keep his prices extremely low, but he said he was grateful to be able to earn enough to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  I knew that my grandmother always made sandwiches for the people who knocked on their door, asking for help.  She said she didn’t have any money to spare, but she could make sure that no one went away hungry.

Listening to those stories shaped how I understood my grandparents.  I grew up knowing that they were grateful for what they had, and willing to share with others in need.  I’m sure they had their moments of worry, fear and frustration as they lived through those dire times, but my general impression was that they were essentially strong and caring people.

I know we will be talking about this current pandemic for a long time to come, and that for many of us, this will be the defining crisis of our lives.  And that made me wonder what I’ll be able to say about how I coped with this, and even more importantly, how I’ll know I reacted to it.

When this is over (and it will be, even though no one knows exactly when), I’m going to look back on this time and ask myself, “Was I brave or fearful?  Was I wise or foolish?  Did I make the best of a bad situation, or did I made a bad situation even worse?”  And I’m going to have to live with those answers for a very long time.

I know I won’t always like my own answers, if I’m brave enough to be completely honest with myself.  I’ve had my moments of fear, frustration and self-pity, and I suspect that most everyone else has too.  We’re human, and we can’t possibly be strong all the time, especially with a crisis that just seems to go on and on.  But when I’m feeling down, it does help to remember my grandparents and how they somehow managed to stay in touch with their best selves even at a time when it must have seemed as if their entire world was falling apart.

And so I’ll try to do the same.  I’ll try to find things to be grateful for, every single day.  I’ll resist the urge to lash out at others who say things that “trigger” my own fears, and I’ll refuse to use this pandemic as an excuse to attack those whose politics, religion, or any other belief system is different from mine.  I won’t remind anyone that their predictions about how this crisis was going to play out were wrong.  And most importantly, I won’t let the uncertainty about how long this will last and how much damage it will do to our society to push me into stockpiling supplies so that others have to do without.

Because some day I will be asked about how I handled this dark time, and I’d like to think that I learned a thing or two from my grandparents. Which means that I want to follow their example, and try to stay in touch with my best self too.

Stepping Up

When I first heard about social distancing and rumors of an impending “shelter at home” order, I started planning how I’d spend my extra leisure time at home.  I wanted to paint our guest bedroom, and clean out the storage area of our basement since all the shelves are, once again, completely full.  (I honestly believe that stuff knows how to reproduce, because no matter how many times we clean out our storage shelves, they fill right back up with junk I have no memory of ever bringing home.)  Knowing that I’d need something to keep my spirits up, I also planned to read tons of books, and even bought a jigsaw puzzle because I’ve always found it soothing to work on a puzzle.  Unfortunately, the walls are still unpainted, the storage shelves are still full of mysterious junk, and the jigsaw puzzle is still in it’s box, unopened.

TH7p4prHTY2Lj2gFkx6NfAMy daughter and son-in-law were lucky to keep their jobs and be able to work from home.  But since his daycare closed, I’ve been spending my days caring for my two-year old grandson.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to do it.  I love being with him and I know that in times like these, families have to support each other any way they can.  I’m just saying that there was a reason I had my own children over thirty years ago, when I had much more energy and stamina.

I knew my life was going to change drastically when our area went into “shelter at home” mode, I just misjudged exactly how it was going to change.  And that made me realize that even though all of us who aren’t essential workers are basically in the same boat, these restrictions don’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.  I see so many postings on social media about how to fill our idle hours, and I can’t even begin to relate to that.  I’m busier now that I’ve been in a long time, and I haven’t been this tired at the end of the day since my own kids were toddlers.

It’s only natural to assume that the way  these life-saving changes affect us is the same way they affect others, but that’s not true.  For some of us, it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience, but for others, this can mean financial disaster because they’ve been laid-off, or heartbreak as they watch the business they put all their time and money into slowly die. Some of us almost welcome the break from our normally hectic lives, but for those who suffer from anxiety and depression, being told to self-isolate for a long period of time is devastating.  And they don’t need anyone telling them that this “isn’t so bad.”

Obviously, we all need to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this horrible virus.  But I think we need to remember that these necessary social isolation measures and mandatory “shelter at home” orders are much harder on some people than others, and so we need to be careful not to tell others how they should feel about it.  And we need to let them tell us their own truth, without judging them, even if we can’t really relate to what they’re saying.

My truth is that I’m feeling everyone of my sixty-one years these days, and I hate dire speculations about how this pandemic is going to play out because they rob me of my ability to cope.  But when I’m snuggling with my grandson while he drifts off to sleep, I also feel incredibly lucky for this temporary opportunity to be such a big part of his life and to witness first-hand how quickly he’s growing and learning new things.   Which means that my days may not be idle, but they are still, in their own way, very blessed indeed.

Trust Issues

Last week I was in the check-out lane at the grocery store, paying for my items in cash. The young man who was the cashier told me I owed $21.78, so I handed him a twenty and a five-dollar bill.  Normally the amount of change I would get back would come up on the computer screen for both of us to see, but he must have entered the wrong amount because according to the screen, I still owed him money.  Quite a lot of money, as a matter of fact.

“No problem.  I’ll figure out your change on this,” he said, whipping out his cell phone and pulling up his calculator app.  He tapped his phone’s screen a few times and then reached into his cash drawer and handed me $4.76.  I’m notoriously bad at math, but even I knew that $25.00 minus $21.78 doesn’t come to $4.76.

“I don’t think that’s right,” I told him.

“Sure it is,” he said.  And held out his phone to me as proof.  “See?”

And sure enough, it did say $4.76 on his screen.  But all that meant was that he had keyed in the wrong amount (again).  I was beginning to think that perhaps being a grocery store cashier was not the ideal job for this particular person.

But the more I thought about it, the more I believed that the real problem wasn’t his habit of hitting the wrong keys when typing in numbers.  The problem was that it never occurred to him to question the accuracy of the information provided by one of his devices. And that got me wondering about how often the rest of us accept whatever facts we get from our devices, instantly and without questions.

Like most people, if I want to find the answer to something quickly and easily, I just “Google it.”  And whatever answer Google comes up with, I believe.  Others, who are more up to date in their devices may also ask “Siri” or “Alexa.”  But honestly, how in the world do we know that Siri and Alexa know what they are talking about?

When home computers first became popular, we were often reminded that they are only as accurate as the information that is programmed into them.  And sometimes technology malfunctions, as anyone who has gotten hopelessly lost following incorrect GPS directions knows all too well.  I admit that I have no idea how Siri or Alexa actually work, or even how Google sifts through thousands of websites to decide which ones show up first on my screen.  But I think it’s a good idea to remember that no technology is infallible, “exhibit A” being Auto-correct and the way it can mangle the simplest of text messages.

Last month I was in Florida with a friend who wanted to hit the beach at low tide because that’s the prime time to find the best shells.  She Googled it, and found that low tide was going to be at 1:30 that afternoon.  At exactly 1:30 we arrived at the beach with our high hopes and empty shelling bags.  And found ourselves staring at a beach that was experiencing what is commonly known as a high tide.  We managed to find some decent shells, but I’m still thinking that someone needs to teach Google a thing or two about the Florida tide cycles.  Or next time, maybe I’ll play it safe and just ask one of the locals.

Necessary Filters

Whenever I hear the term “personal filter,” I immediately think of the filter that needs to exist between our brain and our mouth.  You know, the filter that keeps us from saying out loud every single thought that crosses our brain, especially if our words can hurt someone else.  It’s what helps us simply think, but not say, “Wow, those pants make your butt look even bigger than it actually is!” whenever one of our friends makes an unfortunate fashion choice.  If we want to maintain healthy and positive relationships with other people, having a personal filter is not only a good thing, it’s also a necessary thing.

But lately, I have come to believe that the filter between our brain and our mouth is not the only necessary filter we need.  We live in an age of information overload, thanks to twenty-four hour news channels, social media, our cell phones and any other screen device that keeps us constantly in touch with the outside world.  And sadly, a lot of the information we receive is not just negative, it’s so negative that it leaves us frightened, angry and depressed.

I was talking to a friend the other day who works for the animal shelter where I volunteer, and she told me that she has begun limiting her exposure to the news, because she already sees the result of too much animal abuse and neglect in the course of her job.  It’s not that she doesn’t want to know what is going on in the world, because she does.  It’s just that she has learned that there are limits to the amount of negative information she can safely process at one time, so she has become intentional about filtering the amount and type of information that she is receiving.  I suspect that is a common trait among those who works in fields where they routinely deal with suffering, human or animal.

I’m not saying that I think we should all “bury our heads in the sand” and ignore the very real problems that exist in the world.  Of course we need to know about problems in order to simply protect ourselves, much less actually try to help with the tragedies and solve the problems.  But I am saying that I believe it is okay to decide how much negative news I can handle at any given time without being completely overwhelmed, and to filter what I watch, hear and read accordingly.

Personally, I have decided to discern between the news that I need to know because it either effects me and the people I know or because I have the ability to do something about the problem or crisis, and the news that is horrible but I know I can’t do a single thing about it.  Even then, I believe it’s is okay for me to screen what I actually see and read about each issue.  I want to know about something as horrific as the Yulin Dog Meat Festival so that I can join in the voices of protest against it, but that doesn’t mean I have  to actually watch a video of a dog being tortured.  Similarly, I can read about the latest terrorist atrocity without actually seeing a photo of a person being burned alive.  I don’t need to see all the details to know that there are horrible things going on that need to be stopped.

Having a filter in place between me and all the troubles of the world doesn’t mean I don’t care.  It just means that I am recognizing the limitations of my own coping skills, and that I respect everyone else’s right to do the same thing.