Think of love as a state of grace: not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself. “Love in Times of Cholera” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Six feet apart. 72 inches. The wingspan of a bald eagle.
The distance meant to protect us physically has harmed many psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. As Governor Andrew Cuomo recently put it, “People are struggling with the emotions as much as they are struggling with the economics.” The emotions vary in content and intensity: anxious, depressed, bored, and all that flows from couped-uped-ness, from mild to griddle hot.
Then there’s loneliness.
Before the virus struck, this country was already mired in loneliness. In a major 2019 study, three in five working Americans reported feeling lonely. Now that we’re all hunkered down, the situation has only grown worse.
Humans evolved to be social, to be part of tribes, clans, and bowling leagues. When we don’t get this primal need met, something inside us feels like something vital is missing.
“But loneliness is not just a feeling,” writes Robin Wright in The New Yorker. “It’s a biological warning signal to seek out other humans, much as hunger is a signal that leads a person to seek out food, or thirst is a signal to hunt for water.”
Earlier this week, The New York Times interviewed Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the former surgeon general of the United States, and author of the new book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes-Lonely World.”
“If I had a credo for my book, it would be ‘People First,’” said Murthy. “Too many people worship false gods – wealth, wealth, reputation, power – that are not more important than the people in our lives. Relationships are what make our lives worth living.”
In a certain sense, we KNOW this in our heads, but, too often, forget it in our fast-paced culture that leaves us little time to contemplate and reflect on our lives. Such reflection is often a remembering of who we really are and what others truly mean to us.
Reflect on What’s Really Important
Gregg Levoy writes in The Coronavirus as a Calling that this forced time-out can be a great time to take stock of what matters most in our lives:
“It’s therefore impossible to conduct busyness-as-usual, and you may be left with unaccustomed time on your hands. But once the shock of that subsides a bit, and you’ve done all the panic-shopping you can, you may find it an opportunity to reassess how to spend your time, and how much of it is caught up in restless and relentless pursuit. The Declaration of Independence does, of course, promise us the pursuit of happiness, but not the achievement of it, or even the enjoyment of it. And you may come to question that equation during this phase.
Like the asteroid that ushered out the dinosaurs and gave the mammals underfoot a shot at prominence, once the thunder lizards of everyday business and distraction are sidelined, parts of you that are normally overshadowed may be given an entrance cue – not just projects you’ve back-burnered in difference to the daily grind, but deeper thoughts and feelings about your priorities, the status quo, work-life (im)balance, or yourself.”
While people are suffering – and, yes, dying around us – be grateful for all you have. Take time to let this soak in like a good rain on a dry lawn. Gratitude is something that takes practice. Most of the time, we’re grateful for good stuff that happens randomly to us. But when we practice gratitude, we strengthen this muscle and all pull into our gravitational field the goodness in our lives, both simple and divine.
As Tara Parker-Pope writes in The New York Times article “Gratitude in the Face of Crisis,”
“Every time I wash my hands, I focus on my feelings of gratitude. I start with the doctors, nurses, ambulance, and hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic. I think about the countless numbers of hourly workers who are restocking grocery store shelves, working at pharmacies and staffing checkout counters. These people are coming face-to-face with hundreds of people each day, putting themselves at risk so, the rest of us have food and necessities. I think about sanitation workers collecting our trash. I think about the young man who provides maintenance and cleaning to my building, while grandparents care for his 9-year-old and 1-year-old children.”
In “Living Gratefully in Times of Coronavirus,” Lynn Unger writes:
“In the midst of times of uncertainty, it serves us to reflect on how gratefulness might help to calm us, reduce fears and expectations, open us to greater clarity and love, and fuel action grounded in our deep intentions. Gratitude is not a panacea. It may not cure or solve our anxiety or concerns, but it can foster ease, connection, kindness, and well-being – all valuable qualities which would be good to “go viral” these days. Gratitude cannot save us from sickness or suffering, but it can change how we experience sickness, and it may change our relationship to suffering.”
Acts of kindness towards others create a climate of grace which shines brightly. It brings out what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
Dr. Murtha said: “Helping another person can be an incredibly powerful experience that not only forms a connection between people but reaffirms to ourselves that we’re bringing value to the world. Reach out to your neighbors to ask how they are doing, how you can assist in a big or small way. Many people will be struggling during this crisis. They won’t have the help they need, the income or emotional support to get through it.”
Don’t text, pick up the phone, or FaceTime somebody. The sound and tone provide rich input for how someone is doing. Don’t multitask either during this time. Give it your full attention.
Former President Barack Obama said, “But what I can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their grace. That’s what I do; that what I pray to do every day.”
Finding meaning, being grateful, and acting with kindness create an elixir of grace whose main ingredients are love, care, and concern for others and one’s better angels of our nature.
Armed with these three things, the coronavirus doesn’t have a prayer.
By Daniel T. Lukasik, Esq.