April 26, 2020
Here in Virginia, we are six weeks into the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate. The best descriptor of this time continues to be “surreal” in its strange juxtaposition of life and death, peace and worry, the ordinary and the strange, blessing and inconvenience, calm and restlessness. It’s unlike anything most of us have ever experienced, so we need to give ourselves grace if our thoughts and emotions seem to be riding a rollercoaster. Mine certainly have.
“It is what it is” has taken on a whole new meaning, the significance of which we must navigate anew every day. Deep breathing helps.
Above all, let’s choose to live and to love—every day. Read on for what that choice might look like in the compass points of our life. My father used to say, “I’m going to live until I die,” and that mindset can serve us well right now.
What’s going on at Riverwood?
The miracle of Spring surrounds me here in the Shenandoah Valley. Early blooming redbud, dogwood, and pear are giving way to azaleas. Mountain laurel and peony buds are swelling. Yellow-green pollen covers surfaces everywhere.
Our red-shouldered hawk has been sitting faithfully on her nest for four weeks, so we’re expecting fuzzy heads to show up any day now. A pair of Canada Geese on our neighbor’s pond has four adorable goslings. The parents are very protective, so we have to sneak up with our binoculars to get a good look. And I saw this year’s first hummingbird at the feeder yesterday!
All of this feels comfortingly normal in a world turned upside down by pandemic.
✧NORTH—Faith: It’s Easter anyway!
Church building doors will be closed in Virginia until mid-June, and even after they open, I expect there to be significant changes to the way we take communion and pass the peace. We celebrated Easter without the live organ or the scent of lilies or the squeals of excited, squirmy children in their Easter finest. But as our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, reminded us in his Easter message: “It may not look like Easter. It may not smell like Easter. It may not really feel like Easter. But it’s Easter anyway.” Just like it was Easter anyway before the disciples realized it or before the women at the tomb understood it or before Thomas believed it.
We are Easter people. The world needs our light and our message desperately right now.
✧SOUTH—Connection: We are finding a way
My writing friend Joy Newswanger dislikes the term “social distancing,” and I agree with her. What we’re doing to protect ourselves and our communities is physical distancing, not social distancing. In some ways, we’re connecting socially more than ever before. John and I are trying to call or email or write friends and family to check on them. Visits on Zoom (coffee Zooms, meeting Zooms, and cocktail hour Zooms—affectionately known as “quarantinis”) have become so prevalent that we’re now hearing complaints about “Zoom fatigue.”
If you live alone, you may either be finding that life isn’t much different or you may be feeling intensely isolated. It’s crucial that you take care of yourself, be gentle with yourself, and reach out to others if you need more contact.
Face the fact that we’re in this for the long haul, even if our communities open up in various ways. Until there is a vaccine (and that won’t be before 2021), there is not going to be life post-coronavirus. It will only be life with coronavirus. This will test our resilience, but we can do it.
✧EAST—Self-Awareness: Lean in and take care of yourself
If you’re not sick and you don’t know anyone who’s sick, you may wonder why you’re feeling anxious or stressed or sad. Why can’t we just feel like we’re on vacation instead of locked up?
I’m sure mental health professionals will be answering this question for years to come, but for now, I’m telling you—as someone who rarely gets down or blue—those negative emotions are real. I’ve had them too.
Lean in. Feel them. Acknowledge them, and then do your best to let them float by like clouds hiding the sun. This is an exercise in patience, mindfulness, and courage. It’s also an exercise in self-care. I’m taking more naps and more walks. Journaling has also been a life-giving way to process the strangeness of these times. For you, self-care might be taking a bubble bath, watching a Hallmark movie, reading a sexy romance, or listening to a favorite opera.
It’s not too soon to plan for the future after the “Great Pause.” Are you going back to business as usual? Why not embrace the opportunity to choose your commitments carefully and make sure they align with your values and priorities. If you possibly can, leave sacred space in your schedule for time to dream and think and play.
✧WEST—Nature: What is nature teaching us?
Nature can be cruel.
Death in the natural world is commonplace. It’s highly unlikely that all four of the baby goslings we’ve been watching will be alive this time next year. Disease and ecosystem destruction have decimated whole populations of living creatures. Why should we humans think we are impervious to these cycles? We’re not, of course, but we can learn from them.
Scientists are scrambling to understand this virus and better protect ourselves from it. The forced seclusion has drastically reduced our negative impact on planet Earth, and smog has dramatically decreased in the world’s largest cities. With less vehicle traffic, wildlife is showing up on city streets. One lesson Nature teaches us is that resilience is a survival skill.
Perhaps, in all this craziness, we can learn to live with less, take more pleasure in simple things, and appreciate the blessings of Nature’s beauty and mystery close at hand every day. Let’s use the time to rekindle our sense of wonder and inquiry.
Heartspoken Notes & Letters
Do they know how you feel?
Let’s be honest. No matter how old we might be, this pandemic has forced us to face our mortality more quickly and more harshly than is comfortable. I’m going to assume you’ve done your basic estate-planning work, but if you found out you only had a few weeks to live, who comes to mind as someone you need to thank, forgive, ask for forgiveness, or just tell how much you care about them or appreciate them?
Don’t wait. Tell them now — in person, by phone, or by letter. If you are struggling with the words, head on over to my Facebook group, “The Art of the Heartspoken Note,” for support and encouragement. Or CLICK HERE for posts about note and letter writing on my blog.
Recent posts at the Heartspoken Blog
The Shenandoah – Our beautiful river inspired me to write this poem that was published in the April issue of the Mountain Courier to celebrate National Poetry Month.
Earth Day 2020 – 50 Years! – A celebration of our island home and ways we can take action to protect her.
A World in Crisis: Heartspoken’s Compass Points Newsletter March 2020 – A letter of hope and encouragement from my heart to yours as we embark on a dangerous, new journey.
Every tear is answered by a blossom,
Every sigh with songs and laughter blent,
April-blooms upon the breezes toss them.
April knows her own, and is content.
~ Susan Coolidge (Sarah Chauncey Woolsey), “April”
A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew, A cloud, and a rainbow’s warning,
Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue—An April day in the morning.
~ Harriet Prescott Spofford, “April”
April is a promise that May is bound to keep.
~ Hal Borland
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See you in May. Until then, stay safe, breathe deeply, love fiercely, and savor every moment. Know you are in my thoughts and prayers.
P.S. I answer my emails! You can respond to any of these topics privately by replying to this email or publicly by following me and commenting on any of the social media platforms below. Use the hashtag #HeartspokenLife or #HeartspokenNotes.
P.P.S. You’re invited to join my Facebook group, The Art of the Heartspoken Note, where we explore and share the joy and impact of personal notes and letters.