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I have a friend who often talks about her resolution to be “a bigger I,” meaning becoming more inclusive, more caring, more open to other people. Granted, it can be difficult right now to feel that anything about your life is expanding, other than an uneasy, trapped feeling. But think about it: Empathy for those on the front lines — that’s enlarging your “I.” Maintaining social distancing, even when it means you’ll miss out on the last rolls of toilet paper in the store — that’s also enlarging your “I.” Everything you do now in the interest of others, in the interest of stemming the tide of this disease, is growing yourself beyond your former boundaries. And that is a good thing.

Though I cannot take up torches
or spears against my enemy,
though I can do no more than Milton,
(stand, wait), though my reaching out
must be touchless, limbless, still,
I stretch the seams of my soul.
Misery lurks and like a sponge
I sip it and, cell by cell, expand.
No one hears, no one sees,
yet empathy moves the mountain,
breaks capital I’s into a rubble of “us.”
Small though we be,
we will hold off the tide.

close up photo of water lily flowerIn these days of social distancing and self-quarantine, it’s a good time to shore each other up — virtually, of course — and offer the human nutrients of encouragement and inspiration. We can’t see each other in person, but we can still check in. So, how are you?

For those of you who are sick at home with the Coronavirus (COVID-19), our prayers are with you. For the rest of us, hearing about states shutting down and shoppers fighting over toilet paper, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed right now. 

I could tell you not to get stressed, but that doesn’t even seem reasonable. What I will offer is this suggestion: Gather all the facts you can from reputable sources. Do all your due diligence, then take your mind off everything virulent and volatile. That includes viruses, of course, but also people who are trying to amp you up, make you anxious, or otherwise just get on your nerves.

This is a good time to protect all that is precious to you, and remember: The order to shelter in place extends to your soul. Do all the things you can to stay sheltered in a place of peace. Take your mind off the catastrophe as a whole and focus on one thing at a time.

Remind yourself that you’re doing everything you can at this moment. You’re safe at home. Everything is okay where you are. Let it be okay. Don’t go back and check the stats every ten minutes. How many cases are there in my town today? What’s the latest terrifying news? 

Step away from the stress. Sit down and decompress. All will be well and life will go on. We’ll get through this together, and before you know it, the “new normal” will just be “normal” again. 

Blind with panic, we cannot see
God working, fingers flying,
amassing miracles, accruing saints,
laying hands on the dying, the mourning.
Deliver us, Lord, from this plague,
and in return, we vow
to treasure blessed boredom,
the hole of silence round as a mouth
in mid-yawn,
to bless each ordinary day,
to remember how it felt to need,
keenly, and let no other feel it
though selfish safety finds us;
to see we snub the least of these
at our own quite pointed peril.

dog rescue in middle of lake

Credit: Matt Babbitt / Mlive.com

We’ve all had moments in which we felt as if we were adrift in the middle of nowhere, like this dog found floating on an ice patch on a freezing lake one night. Luckily, just when it seemed all was lost, help arrived and the dog was rescued.

It seems as if the ideal life would be one with no challenges, but what we learn on the hard road instills resilience and resourcefulness. All of the things you’ve gone through have built up your own adversity-acumen, and now you know how to lend a hand to someone else when they need it.

Don’t give yourself a hard time for going through hard times. It’s not a sign that God has left you behind, or that you don’t deserve abundance and accolades. It means you’re storing up skills for the next river you’ve got to cross. And once you get to the other side, you’ll find that, now, you’ve become a guide. 

And as you lay down to rest at night you’ll realize that, even though you’d been on a hard road, it was still a good day. It’s not the easy life that fulfills us as human beings, but a purposeful, positive life in which you do your best, and find that your best gets better every day.

Even when you end up in a difficult situation like that poor pup, stranded on an icy lake, just remember: you’re stockpiling survival skills from the inside. And since Providence is perpetual, you’re never really alone.

Forgiveness is one of the main tenets of most religions, but for me, it’s a work-in-progress. Sometimes I’m able to forgive those who trespass against me instantly, and, at other times, only incrementally.

I realized the other day that I’m also guilty of “forgiveness head-fake;” that is to say, I start out full of compassion, intending to let go of an infraction, but then I get to mulling. Once I start really thinking about it, I start to smolder. Mulling and smoldering might be a good recipe for cider and fondue by the fire, but it’s not so good for the soul.

That Mull and Smolder Syndrome came into effect recently when I realized my mailbox had been run over, yet again. It really had me riled up, because the perpetrator was the grocery delivery driver. He’d brought my food into the house and never mentioned that he’d just demolished my mailbox.  I even gave him a tip and a granola bar! 

This irked me so much that I couldn’t let go of my anger, even after the grocery company paid to repair my mailbox. Then I came across the viral video about a young man who ran over a mailbox in icy conditions and apologized sincerely to the homeowner, even coming back a few days later with cookies. That’s how it should be done! I could forgive that young man in a heartbeat. If I could forgive him, I can find it in my heart to forgive the truck driver.

Sometimes, it’s important to forgive — even when the offender hasn’t apologized — to protect your own mental health. When you’ve done all you can do, let go, let God and leave the past behind you.

brown wooden ship's wheelWhat happens if one day God decides to process all the paperwork on your prayers and suddenly, you’re sitting on top of a big pile of money? You look out at the driveway and see that there are suddenly several new cars! In the backyard, there’s an in-ground pool and a sculptured-stone fire pit. You notice a small chalet in the corner of the yard. You ask, Is that the place where we store the gold-plated rider mower? No, you’re told. That’s the servants’ quarters!

Okay, you need to sit down and take a breath. What happens now? 

Once you get the resources you’ve been asking for, sure, there will be more money, but also more drama to deal with. More tasks to keep track of. More appliances in need of repair. More bureaucracy to navigate. More taxes to pay. 

Dealing with problems, lack of money, and doing without is ground-floor training for the good times. This is the time to develop a system by which you get important tasks done. To learn how to stay on budget. To prioritize what is screaming for attention and what is really just a squeaky door hinge.

If you hadn’t gone through the boot camp of making do and scraping by, you might never know how to manage abundance when it comes. Challenges aren’t punishment or penance. Trials aren’t tests, but training. So with that wherewithal-workout under your belt, when your ship comes in, you’ll already be wearing your captain’s hat, ready to take the wheel. 

rule of thirds photography of pink and white lotus flower floating on body of waterThe narrator on the meditation app that I use called HeadSpace said in a soothing voice, “We’re training the mind to both let go of difficulties and familiarize itself with calm, clarity and contentment.” As it turns out, that voice actually belongs to the company’s founder, Andy Puddicombe. Once I got past the fact that his accent reminds me of the Geico Gecko from the insurance company’s television commercials 🦎, I found the meditations relaxing. 

His suggestion to “let go of difficulties” gave me pause. While focusing on the positive is beneficial for mental health, discontent and anger are red flags that tell you that something needs attention. 

As Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, James Carmody says in this article, humans are wired to worry. “Tension is often unnoticed in the midst of managing everyday demands, but its background discomfort sends us looking for relief in something more pleasant like a snack, a screen, a drink or a drug.”

Those points of tension in your body are the way your psyche asks you for a relief valve. For me, along with meditation, I decompress with prayer, exercise, and knitting. Things that allow me to just breathe and be. 

At the risk of sounding like a guru-gecko, your to-do list will always be there in some form, so give yourself a break. Moments of repose can help bring you back to center.

In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up and realizes he’s been turned into a horrible insect. I had a similar, though less pestiferous, experience last night. I was all cuddled up in my blankets, when I realized that my own heartbeat — in combination with the heartbeat of my cat, who sleeps so close to me I literally cannot move — was making the blankets reverberate: ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. It was like being inside a cocoon. I wondered briefly, sleepily, what I would be reborn into.

Wouldn’t it be nice to end each day by completely shedding your old self, only to be born anew? Wouldn’t it be great to leave past mistakes behind — permanently? What if we treated each new day as a chance to start over?

How about today
you wake up and do not take
up your old soul (you know the one,
grubby and tattered, in need of baptism
or at least an industrial washing),
but put on instead fresh new wings?
Let them lift you above the expectations
and the petty seething of those so earthbound
they cannot fathom metamorphosis. Be today
an altogether better thing. Leave your old self
sleeping in your bed. Shed it like chrysalis, like a shell
you’ve grown too large for. And when you see someone
soaring, greet them with amnesia of what worm they were
before. Let the past go like pollen dropping from your feet.
Examine a new leaf. Let your vision go skyward.
There is nowhere you cannot go.

Meeting new people at a party or other gathering can be intimidating. Maybe there should be a “Skip Intro” button to bypass those awkward introductions, like they have when you’re binge-streaming shows on Netflix.

The only problem is that we might just end up “auto-populating” — making assumptions based on where people are from or what kind of accent they have. 

This is what crossed my mind as I was driven home from an appointment by a ride-share driver who spoke no English. When I opened the door to get into the car, he hurried out of the driver’s seat and held my door for me. He nodded toward my bags, indicating that he would put them into the car for me. I smiled back in thanks.

No translation was necessary. This was just a kind young man doing his best in a world that’s new to him. Just trying to make a living.

We rode together in silence, and I remembered that I had taken Spanish in high school, so maybe I’d try to say something pleasant to him in Spanish as I got out of the car. Then I realized that it’s been so long since I was in high school, it’s entirely possible the language has evolved and now I’d be speaking gibberish! 

I decided to take the plunge in a spirit of goodwill and said, “Buen fin de semana,” hoping I’d actually said, “Have a good weekend.” He smiled broadly and tried his hand at cross-cultural communication. “Happy Valenteem’s Day,” he said. “Oh, thank you, son!  You’re the first one to tell me that today!” He didn’t understand me, but knew I’d said something positive in return.

It was a gentle reminder that, even if you “Skip the Intro” with people, there’s always a story there, and it’s one worth hearing.

Every month, a huge truck pulls up in front of my neighbor’s house to supply her with oil to heat her house. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple to get your own energy percolating again? Just pull up to a tank and restore your zhoosh. Perhaps you could even order it online for same-day delivery.

I’ve had some ups and downs recently: I was under the weather and over-extended (physically, financially, and emotionally). Some days I felt underappreciated. Other times, overwrought. I felt off-balance and on-edge.

It seemed as if I was running in place, and prayed to find a map to help me move forward.

As I woke up this morning, I still felt this way, but as I got out of bed, I inadvertently played an old video of my cat (God rest) as he sat in his spot on the bed, calmly grooming and just basically existing. He was happy just to be with me. Normally, that video would make me sad, since he’s no longer here, but today, it was a reminder of pawsitive things (sorry, had to): love, comfort, sitting in stillness, a peaceful home, warmth, a furry friend you can count on, blessings. All the things that comprise zhoosh restoration are gifts from God that you may take for granted. Focus on the things that lift you up today, and you’ll find that they bring you back to life.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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