Three years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down. I vividly remember the phone call from my employer announcing the cancellation of all classes and activities. It was one of those kind of earth shattering moments that etches its way into your mind. In an instant, my income was stripped away, and like many others, I found myself in a frightening situation, wondering how I would manage.
I did a lot of walking during this time, trying to stay active and find peace. This became more and more challenging as new closings of parks, beaches and trails were announced. Sadly, even these places, where people often find peace and wellbeing, were closed off. We were shutting down nature and it felt like the world had gone mad.
And while officials acted to prioritize our “safety” I believe they were viewing the situation through a narrow lens and missing the big picture. The ramifications of confining individuals to their homes, depriving them of fresh air and nature, banning social interaction, and destabilizing their income, all while selling them fear 24/7 are now being felt. We are living with mass homelessness, food and supply shortages, crazy inflation, large corporations flourishing while small businesses fail, and increased mental and physical health issues. The pandemic also robbed us of opportunities to create cherished memories with friends and family and even denied some, those last precious moments with their loved ones, who died alone or with strangers instead of in the company of those who loved them.
The pandemic greatly exacerbated the culture of fear and divisiveness which can be witnessed in things like school meetings that erupt over issues of vaccinations, mask-wearing, remote education, and social distancing and in the widening gap between those who offer to willingly trade freedom for safety and the opposing group that views freedom as paramount. Whether protection is sought by wearing a mask on the face, stockpiling supplies, or carrying a gun – the message is the same, we are afraid.
We now live in a world where censorship, book banning, social media post removal and deactivation of accounts have become accepted means of suppressing information that goes against what is touted as the "truth". Groups that fought for sovereignty over our bodies and the right to refuse treatments and vaccines now advocate against the reproductive rights of women, while the opposing groups are in direct disagreement. Polarization is at an all time high while tolerance is vanishing.
And what of the children, who lost the benefits of childhood social interaction and missed out on group activities and milestone events such as proms and graduations. Some were trapped in homes where abuse was prevalent, and others were subjected to neglect and lack of adequate food and nutrition. The learning gap between those children who had access to needed equipment, services and support and those that didn’t widened. And as we know, children are shaped by their environment, and many continue to feel the myriad effects of living with adults who were experiencing extreme stress. We are now seeing the prevalence of suicide and mental illness amongst our youth reaching an all-time high.
As I write I realize what began as a short note in a group email grew into much more. I think realizing it was the three year anniversary came with a need for introspection, examination and healing. While I was fortunate to reap some benefits from the pandemic, I, like others also suffered losses such as: my sense of security, my feeling of solidity, my trust in people and in society, long-time friendships, and some of my dreams. I’ve become less patient and quicker to anger. I find it more challenging to make plans for the future, I experience moments of profound sadness, and it is harder to allow myself to be vulnerable and instead opt for protection mode.
But it is the challenging times that uncover the places in which we are stuck and need to grow. And on the upside, the pandemic gave me a longed-for sanctuary and creative space, and the time to pursue new endeavors and learn new skills. Additionally, I gained confidence and developed more courage and independence. And I was fortunate to be the beneficiary of many acts of generosity and kindness that rekindle my spirit just by remembering them.
It’s a wild, exciting, terrifying time to be alive. We are witnessing the collapse of old antiquated systems that weren’t built to serve us equally and justly, all while experiencing the great power of our planet which is changing landscapes and lives. We are in the discomfort of chaos, it all looks and feels out of control, but what if on the other side is a new way of being, a rebirth so grand that it is beyond the ability of our five senses to conceive.
Recently I saw the Matrix Resurrections, the first one was a favorite of mine, so I was excited to see a new sequel. What I like about the series is that it wakes me up, it “unplugs” me for a little while by making me aware of the 24/7 programming that is being cast upon us. We are living in a time where “the powers that be”, the governments, the media, the big conglomerates are doing their best to instill fear, incite hatred and increase polarization, thereby keeping us separated and warring amongst ourselves.
The message of this newest episode was clear, it was about the power of connection – showing that when we unite with each other we gain true power, we create an energy that is greater than the sum of its parts. By joining with others with the intention of spreading love, kindness, and compassion we access a magic capable of transforming the world. We each have a choice to make – we can choose unity and paint the sky with rainbows or continue buying into the hate and separateness and watch the world burn.
This morning I was in a store getting coffee and I overheard a man asking a young woman if she had gotten her "jabs" and she said no because they kill horseshoe crabs for some of the ingredients for the vaccines. And all I could think was compassion is what will carry us to the other side, and for the second time this week I was given hope. Read my previous blog for the first hope bringing encounter.
Earlier this evening I planned to attend a fitness class but once there found it had been cancelled. I then headed to the gym but when I went to change into my sneakers I found that a gallon of water had leaked and saturated one of the shoes – I was already cold and the thought of putting on a sopping wet shoe was more that I was willing to do (yeah I know suck it up and stop being a baby). Next stop was to pick up a few things from the store, which thankfully was successful and then to make a return at another store. The second store was crowded so I decided it could wait until tomorrow.
You may be wondering why I wrote about the class, the gym and the errands. I did so to show that while incidents may seem random and unconnected, the universe brings us to the exact place we need to be in any given moment - to meet who we are destined to meet, to learn what we need to learn and to experience that which we need to experience.
As I drove out of the parking lot I saw a woman sitting with a blanket around her shoulders and her belongings next to her. I continued to drive but the image stayed with me, and so I circled back around to see if perhaps she wasn’t loaded down with bags from a shopping spree and waiting for her ride. But unfortunately, that was not the case.
I went up to her and said hello and asked if she was okay, I thought maybe I could buy her a hot coffee or a meal, but she said she was waiting for someone to pick her up, and because the night was classified as a code blue (temps below freezing), she would be taken to a warming station. She added that it wasn’t exactly where she had planned to be at age 67 but was hopeful that she could turn her situation around.
I gave her the money I would have spent on the fitness class and wished her all the best, all the while feeling totally inadequate. My heart was breaking for this stranger who grew up in the same decade as myself and I knew that her current situation could easily be mine.
As I wished her well she shared her beautiful smile with me and her brave hope for the future. I got back into my warm car and headed home, feeling a rush of gratitude for all the good fortune in my life. No longer taking for granted the fact that I have heat, hot water, a bed, privacy, a stocked refrigerator and freezer, an oven, stove and microwave, television and internet, a bathroom and shower, a computer, plenty of clothes, a washer and dryer, a door that locks and so much more.
This month I have been offering a group meditation challenge and I knew that the meditation I would share for tomorrow would be Tonglen meditation. Tonglen is a method to overcome our fear of suffering and to open our hearts in compassion for our own suffering and that of other sentient beings.
Let's acknowledge the suffering that is inherent in life and do our part to lessen it. When one of us suffers, we all suffer.
A big shout out and thank you to The Branches Center of Rio Grande for all the love and kindness they share with our community.
Although 2021 may not have been the year you dreamed of I hope you carry some fond memories of moments filled with laughter and love into the new year.
Whatever you are longing for in 2022 its creation starts with you. Don't wait for things to be better, for the old ways to return or for the moment to be perfect. Life is happening now. Live it.
I truly believe there is a world up ahead that is filled with brightness, but we can only get there when we drop the hatred, judging, fear and separation. Kindness, compassion, and love will open our hearts and when our hearts are open, other hearts will recognize us and respond in kind.
I wish you a beautiful year ahead, one where your dreams come true, but if by chance they don't, one in which you are resilient and resourceful enough to create new ones.
“We call it ‘dolce far niente.’ It means ‘the sweetness of doing nothing.’”
– Giovanni in Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Nowadays it’s all about the grind. It’s a badge of honor to work 80+ hours a week, to 10x your business, productivity, money, and growth.
Working hard, especially at something you love can be practical, healthy, and rewarding, but athletes will tell you that recovery time is just as important.
Take time to rest, to introspect, to connect with nature and to feed your soul.
Time to take another vacation from my excuses.
I don’t have the time, the talent, the money, the support, the education, and blah blah blah -all excuses that keep you from reaching your goals. Don’t let resistance and fear steal your dreams.
What is one small step you can take TODAY that will bring you closer to achieving your goals?
Take action now.
“It all goes away. Eventually, everything goes away.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)
Death makes room for birth
Space makes room for newness
Of course, when people and animals that we love go away the pain and emptiness that is left in their wake changes us forever
But imagine if it didn’t all go away – children would never leave for college, marriage or new adventures; pets living forever would allow no room for more to be adopted and loved,; how would the wisdom that ripens with age ever be found if we were eternally young; if we held onto our childhood beliefs, how could we become the ones to put the money under our child’s pillow from the tooth fairy, buy the gifts from Santa or chase the monsters from under their beds; how would we ever become the adults if our parents lived their youth forever?
Remembering what was may bring a sweet, tingling feeling but holding on, trying to go back in time leaves us stagnant, hopeless and depressed.
This moment is all that was ever promised, and it is all that is truly real, everything else exists only in memories or dreams.
Take time to mourn the losses, to experience and heal from the hurt, pain and sadness, and then open the windows of your heart and mind and allow the freshness of life in, let it help you to let go and live.
"True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories."
`~ Florence King
Maybe you, like myself, are beyond that halfway mark. Well certainly, at 62, I am, unless some great discovery greatly extends the average life span. Won't you join me for a trip down memory lane, for a little nostalgia, that may have you wistfully remembering days gone by.
Let’s journey to a time when life seemed simpler. When we had more sun rises ahead of us than behind. When the whole world felt like it was within the grasp of our now aging hands.
For me, it always seems to be the memories of summer nights that come drifting back – nights spent at the local church carnival, giggling with girlfriends while eating piping hot, fresh baked pizza. Or evenings playing games like - red light/green light, take a giant step and tag, until we were roused from our play by the chimes of Good Humor or Mr. Softy that would send us flying into the house to get money for a frozen treat. Memories of being hot, sweaty, dirty, and happy. Of having seemingly boundless energy.
All it takes is a smell, a snippet of a song or the feeling the air on a warm summer’s night has on my skin to leave me breathless with longing for those days that are now decades out of reach.
Don’t misunderstand I have found surprising rewards to getting older and I may still have decades to go but there comes a time when you know, that while longing for youth may be foolish it doesn’t stop you from savoring the sweet memories of times long gone.
Remembering a world where children played outside without a care, where we walked for miles, played in creeks, trudged to school in snow, ice and cold and sat in sweltering buildings where we were still expected to pay attention and complete our schoolwork. A world where patience was the norm, and waiting in line, especially during the holiday season was a fact of life. A time when you anxiously anticipated a Tuesday night because your favorite TV show was on, and you had to be home otherwise you would have to wait until the summer reruns to see it. When you sat on the edge of the couch waiting for a commercial break trying to make the difficult choice between getting a snack or peeing in that 2-minute window before the show returned. Times when it was normal to phone someone and not get an answer - not even an answering machine – and having to wait to tell them good or heartbreaking news; or maybe being glad they didn’t answer because it kept you from saying something better not said.
Our new world is filled with gadgets and mind-blowing technology, where everything is literally within reach, where connections are instantaneous, and our loved ones are rarely farther than a screen away. A world where mimeograph machines and 8 track players are foreign and antiquated. Where the current weather forecast, customized by zip code, is available 24 hours a day and can even be read to you by Siri or Alexa – no more having to stay up to catch the weather during the nightly news. Speaking of weather, what about the cold, snowy mornings spent curled up under warm bedcovers, listening to a little transistor radio, hoping and praying that your school would be on the list of closings; unlike now where schools are closed and events cancelled when bad weather whispers at the area. And lunches of warm peanut butter sandwiches and a piece of fruit carried to school in a princess or super-hero lunchbox, and having to wait until recess to get a drink of water. When did we become such a thirsty society that needs constant access to water?
Convenience and immediate gratification are what it’s all about these days. Practically anything can be yours thanks to companies like Amazon, and if standard shipping isn’t fast enough you can pay a monthly fee to get your “stuff” faster with prime. From fully prepared food delivery subscriptions to fast food ordered through an app and delivered to your door, you can have it all with minimal contact with any other human beings. But god forbid you have a question and need to speak to a live being, this situation can present a challenge that tests even the most patient person. It’s so unlike the days when you could go the avenue and speak directly to the business owner, like the hardware store that even though it was packed floor to ceiling the owner knew where every screw, nail and hammer was stored. And he might even be able to give you tips on repairs, but if not, the guy waiting in line behind you, your neighbor Joe from around the corner, might offer to come over later and help you out.
It was about community. Nights of sitting on stoops or walking around the block, chatting with neighbors about the ball game the night before or sharing favorite recipes or gardening tips. Community was the social media back then.
Well, here we are back in 2021, barely even noticing the pleasure of clicking a remote instead of having to get up and change the channel on the television set, being able to listen to our favorite songs anytime we want and actually knowing all the lyrics thanks to google.
Nostalgia has a way of perfecting the less than perfect, which is a beautiful thing. Look back fondly, indulge your memories and keepsakes from the past, but then let go, otherwise you will miss the wonders of today and the excitement and hope of a future that is bursting with possibilities.
“There have been so many times I have seen a man wanting to weep but instead beat his heart until it was unconscious.” — Nayyirah Waheed
What a disservice we do to our boys and men by favoring strength over compassion, by teaching them with fists instead of hugs, by leaving them teeming with emotions that make them feel disempowered, confused and less “manly”.
We leave them on their own to deal with bullying and molestation by disbelieving, dismissing and even ridiculing their trauma. Few services and even less understanding is available to men in abusive relationships.
We then act surprised when they take their overwhelming emotions, their aloneness, and the messages of “be a man”, (that have been drummed into their beings since birth), and turn to violence, bringing tragedy to themselves, their families, and their communities.
As a society we must do better.
Women can stop supporting the macho stereotype, can stop expecting only strength and courage from men. Women can support their sons, brothers, partners, and friends by encouraging them to express emotions and feelings, and by not equating fear with weakness.
Men can help other men to address anger issues and can give each other permission to have feelings that have been deemed “unmasculine”.
Together we can establish programs to help men deal with past trauma and can fund youth programs that offer boys a safe space to explore feelings and fears. We can lead companies brave enough to redefine their marketing campaigns to depict men in non-traditional ways. We can celebrate our strong male dancers and our compassionate male nurses just like we do male athletes and doctors. We can write books and give presentations that help men and women understand the cultural conditioning that continues to take place and to offer solutions.
We don’t live in a vacuum, each of us is choosing to support or hinder the healthy development of boys to men, with the movies and shows we watch, the books we read, the podcasts we listen to, the clothes we wear, and the toys we buy for our children.
It is our duty, as a society, to cultivate healthy, well-adjusted men by accepting and validating the feelings and concerns of our boys.