As I first read the news coming out of China about the novel corona virus it felt very far removed from my own life. Perhaps this was the result of a convergence of both my usual self-protective defenses along with the geographical distance between myself and the virus that allowed me the luxury of settling momentarily into my denial and although heartbreaking, it felt a world away.
Around the same time, in late February, a trip to the heart surgeon revealed that my mother’s leaking aortic valve was failing, and she would need open heart surgery. The surgery had been planned for the end of March and in the ensuing weeks it became clear that this virus would escape its confines of Wuhan China and make its way into all our lives.
I began to watch the news incessantly, feeling my unease grow by the second. For those of us with a history of trauma and unpredictability, and even for those without such complicated histories, COVID-19 seemed to strike into the very heart of our most tender places, the places we vigilantly work to avoid by staying busy or through the never ending distractions we create. All the while, just below the surface, our wounded places lie in wait for the day to come when our world falls apart.
I suppose that is always the risk of leaving so much of the body untended. Old wounds plied with enough alcohol or shopping may lie dormant, but they are always there ready to break through the surface of our consciousness and threaten to engulf us.
I worried if my mother would survive surgery, I worried if we would have enough food and toilet paper, or if we would all come down with this horrific virus. And much like the indiscriminate violence of a tornado, I believed it would find its way to my house and strip away everything from me that I hold dear. My thoughts, much like the virus itself, replicated itself over and over in stories of fear and loss.
I am incredibly thankful for having been introduced so many years ago to the practice of mindfulness. In the midst of my panic, I began to hear again the quiet still voice in my body beckoning me back into the present moment. It started on my early morning runs…I could hear that voice quietly whisper, look Denise, look at the sun coming up behind the mountains. Notice the colors, the hues of reds, oranges and yellows and how they melt seamlessly into one another. Can you slow down here for just a minute and feel the crisp morning air touch your body; can you sense how powerful your lungs are as you draw in a deep full breath?
I would take my son for walks in the afternoons and notice the aliveness of Spring, how the beautiful pink Cherry Blossoms lined the streets and how the geese had returned home to birth new life. I began to notice things in a way that felt both awake and meaningful. COVID-19 was the reminder from the universe that from the moment we are born, our breaths have always been numbered. The time we have here is fleeting and finite and we have an innately human way of collectively forgetting this simple and resolute fact.
COVID-19 has come to wake us from this dormant state. It reminds us that all we ever have is this moment in front of us and invites us to show up even in the face of life’s uncertainties. It jostles our psyche into remembering that we are here for such a short time and that we get to choose how we will show up for the time that is given us.
We have watched entire economies crumble in a day, businesses fold, the craziness of a world without toilet paper and the life that we had once known disappear before our very eyes. I wondered how we had managed to create a world built on the very things that by their very nature cannot endure. We have contemplated reopening the economy at the expense of human life. We imagine that with enough money we can be sheltered from the vulnerabilities of human existence. COVID-19 has disavowed us of that belief.
COVID-19 has shocked us out of our collective forgetting. It has reminded us that each one of us have that quiet still voice within that connects us not only to one another but to something sacred and deeply abiding. In the face of this pandemic, we have been witness to countless acts of heroism and kindness. Health care workers risking their lives to save those struggling with this disease and often serving as surrogate family as they leave this life and move into the next. Grocery store clerks, Amazon employees, the essential workers who have been the most disenfranchised and left behind are showing up again and again to take care of us through their service. Not a day has gone by where I have not been moved by the goodness I see in the world. Almost in defiance of our current reality of sheltering in place and social distancing, we have found a way to forge new connections to one another and to our shared humanity. In the face of crisis have remembered what is most important.
I am reminded of a quote by Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. This is my prayer, my fervent wish, that I do not go back to sleep and let the gift of COVID-19 slip away. An ever present reminder that this life will pass for each of us, far too quickly, how we are all inextricably connected to one another and that it’s not too late for us to change course and build a world that learns from COVID-19 about the things that matter most.
I promise, it won’t be found in your stock portfolio or how big your house. It won’t be in your yearly income, your list of assets or your second home at the beach. That is the gift of any crisis…we remember the things we can take with us. The feel of a child reaching out to grab our hand, a kind word, the love we hold in our hearts. The beauty of the natural world that surround us and the preciousness of all life. It helps us to remember Cherry blossoms in Spring.