April 04, 2020

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

We each have our own particular stresses during this time of pandemic. I feel bad for the brothers I live with who are cooped up inside and am glad that they find ways to remain active. During a particularly tough trip to the grocery store though, it occurred to me that my role as designated “extern” carries its own weight. While I’m glad I can get out for errands, my trips into the world also provide me a greater view into the ways that our world continues to change. I see shelves empty and sometimes re-fill. Businesses strive to implement new public health guidelines that multiply necessary inconveniences. Ever fewer people walk the streets, and increasingly fewer of them appear indifferent to the march of the virus. Because I am pretty much the only community member going outside now, I also know that if illness comes upon our house it will most likely be through me. Like many of us, nearly everything I do and how I do it is affected by the virus. It does not just define our current reality—it is our current reality.

I don’t feel I can avoid the news, but nor do I want to constantly wallow in it. TV shows and movies set in the present time only remind me of the old ways of 2019 that have been taken from us. Why are those people standing so close to each other? How is it that they can shake hands, go to restaurants, or embrace? For any entertainment to provide me escape these days, it must be set in a sufficiently distant time or place that it doesn’t remind me of that ancient world I am missing from a mere month ago.

All that said, I still have many more good days than bad ones. I’m doing ok for one living at the epicenter. Still, the bad days are as important as the good ones. Not that I seek out misery, far from it. I find my diversions and take time for exercise in the hopes that it will help my psychology as well as my physiology. Some of the tasks that bring me stress likewise give me purpose—after all, I am glad to be making my contribution in all of this. Still, if I don’t allow myself to recognize my difficult moments when I feel them, what good will I ever be for people on the other side? I don’t expect to match anybody pain for pain, but if I am to accompany others in their grief both now and later, I must also be in touch with my own.

I think the last animated film I saw was Inside Out, a clever movie in which the main characters are Joy, Sadness, and other personifications of the emotions occupying and shaping a young girl’s consciousness. Watching the film, I hated the character of Joy because she was a pushy egomaniac who felt all the other feelings were invalid—they just needed to go away and let her call the shots. The growth in Joy throughout the story comes as she recognizes that other feelings have their own valuable contributions to make and that unexpected combinations of seemingly discordant emotions can actually enrich our memories and experiences.

I think I am basically a happy person, and to probably an even greater extent than I sometimes realize. If I’m in different emotional space though, I can be a difficult person to cheer up. Any obvious efforts to do so may very well lead me instead to justify—and thereby reinforce—whatever designated ‘undesirable’ feelings I was already having. Being a hard person to ‘fix’ though has also helped me to realize the futility in trying to ‘fix’ others when they aren’t feeling well. I’d like to believe that I’m not scared of sorrow, anger, or even fear. If somebody wants to express those to me, I hope to listen compassionately without trying to change them. If they happen to find relief and comfort through that sharing though, so much the better—may it eventually lead them to joy through whatever gentle path is laid before them.

Regardless of the contours of our respective emotional journeys during this time, we are all in a process of change. New York City may be a tiny step closer to understanding what it is like to live in South Sudan. The physically able may be a tiny step closer to understanding what it is like to live with disability in an often inaccessible world.

Many of us may have felt like we began last month living in a world in which we could at least make some of the rules. Now we’re all playing defense. How far we’ve come.


This week’s ‘ear candy’ is a (relatively) more recent Rolling Stones song, ‘Out of Control’. Because we’re all out of control right now, right? The video is live concert-footage from 20 years ago, featuring Mick Jagger at a young 56 years of age. The ‘brain food’ is a piece from the Seattle Times about one way in which our current experience should lead to new empathy and accommodation for the disabled.

Ear Candy: “Out of Control” by the Rolling Stones

Brain Food: “Coronavirus Shows Everyone What People with Disabilities Have Known All Along” by Naomi Ishisaka

Come back next Saturday for a new post!