Terrors and Silver Linings

Published on May 11, 2020
by Rosemary Jennings

THE BIG PICTURE

We are shocked that this is happening. It's historic, plagues and pandemics having occurred through the ages, and yet that barely matters....it's happening NOW to US and we are shocked and horrified and don't like it. We wake up most mornings wondering if this is really happening and experience it as a jolt when we realize that it really is.

We change many of our daily habits, as does the rest of the world, due to the care we must all take to reduce the death toll. It is unthinkable that this is necessary, and then we lose someone to whom we were close or simply knew. They succumbed to this puzzling and treacherous phenomena.

We are plummeted into a profound awareness of the depth of the crisis in which we live. We are sad and shocked and fearful of the future.

We are not alone. This is an astounding awareness - this is global and most of us, except in the most remote and unreachable locations, know this is going on and are personally affected. We are brought together by our common fear, suffering and love of the life we would like to restore. We feel a profound comfort in the global commonality of this siege. We are strangely relieved to share a monumental and specific problem, rather than reside within our own, now lesser seeming, individual problems.

We can live with “I don't know.” We have to. We don't know what will happen, how long this will last, if we and our loved ones will survive, what the consequences will be if we do survive in terms of our families, work, health, lifestyle. We know we can live with profound uncertainty and be present in the moment, anyway.

More than ever, we are in touch with our love for those close and dear to us. This extends to all the heroes in this Pandemic, all those who are hit the hardest, all those who are risking their own well-being to preserve ours, all those who are devoted to urgently finding a way to halt the course of the virus, and all the “others” in our lives who were once relegated as less important and for whom we now find we experience concern. We even let them know.

We can be patient, because we have to be.

THE SMALLER PICTURE: SILVER LININGS

For those of us who are not 'essential workers' or in a workforce that is even more demanding due to the Pandemic, there can be silver linings:

There is a new simplicity in our days, in how we spend time with those we love -- in person, by phone, by Zoom, by taking walks with one another six feet apart. And we are at first jolted by this simplicity and come to love it.

It's astonishing how much more time we have since we are driving less, how much more money because we may be spending less.

We begin to do all the things on that old 'to do' list for which we never had time. There are many items on that list for which we are now glad there was “no time” because we don't want to do these things anyway! And the other things on the list are a pleasure and we realize we no longer want to relegate these things to “someday.” We find the hobbies we dropped and love, we cook inventively, we simplify our physical spaces and the hours of our day. We are required to “stay away,” so many of our responsibilities to others are prohibited and give us time for ourselves that we treasure.

We can live with so little. This is a joy. We don't really need all those things, all those choices, all those activities.

If we have school age children or younger, we are challenged to have even less time than we did when they had all their outside activities and friends, and while this is draining and sometimes tormenting, we also have found new ways to connect with them, new activities to foster and a shocking awareness that we can actually manage, at least most days.

We become alright with ourselves just the way we are. Since the door is closed on so many choices, we no longer need suffer from our own self-expectations. If we are single and living alone, we no longer have the pressure to “be in a relationship” and we find that we actually like living alone; that we would, in fact, prefer not having a relationship that involves cramping our style. We give ourselves a stamp of approval for being the way we are and we have been released from the pressure to be otherwise.

If we live alone, we may find our choices before this happened have left us without the basic support and love we want - we want someone to be there when we come home and be glad - and there is no one because we have avoided making that possible. Now we realize we must make a change, once this is over.

We find we are in quarantine with people for whom we have less tolerance than ever and we wonder how we'll continue to cope as it goes on and on. Or, we are quarantined with those whom we love and cherish even more than we ever knew, and we cherish the continuations of days all the same and always together.

We are baffled by the prospects of the 2020 Election, given this on-going crisis.

We'll do our best to figure out what to do about our job loss and income reduction.

We'll hope to be there, later, for those who have suffered most from this. We'll do our best to bring our newfound compassion to respond to their needs after the trauma has settled down and the temptation is to go back to the same old.

A FEW PERSONAL MEMORIES

Our daughter gave birth to their third child during the early weeks of the Pandemic. It went astoundingly well, this birth of little Luke during a Pandemic. Our daughter gave birth in a record 40 minutes - from water breaking to a panicked and painful trip to the hospital just in time. This little boy was almost delivered by his Dad on a dark Pandemic night in the car. We would have been there to help with all of it, my husband and myself, as we have with our other seven grandchildren at the time of their births. We couldn't be. We are too old (way over 60) and at risk for exposure to those who have been in hospitals. We waited the advised two weeks before we could see this beautiful newborn at a distance on a cold spring day in their backyard, the other children running around and playing hide and seek with these grandparents wearing masks and gloves. It was wonderful and so relieving to have this all go so smoothly amidst all the fears preceding the actual birth. Eventually, we'll have the chance to hold this newborn and enjoy him amidst his family. We will wait as we all are.

Our older grand children 6 to 10 years old, are doing Zoom home schooling coupled with parental schooling endeavors. They are doing charming and creative projects, some of which are extremely helpful to the entire family such as cooking full meals and especially desserts. Our grandson produced a hilarious list of “ten top mistakes to avoid” in cooking as a result of his creative ventures, which are actually, usually, huge successes and very ambitious. His eight-year-old sister has written an online instruction manual for how to “write your own book, illustrate and publish it!"

While the kids may bicker on and off throughout the day, they are also becoming closer and their parents know them in ways that would never have been as possible with their crazy, busy schedules of sports and friends, events and computers.

Wishing health and abundant silver linings to all.

Rosemary Jennings, Ph.D., has been in private practice in clinical psychology since 1991 in New York City and Nyack, N.Y., treating adults and couples. She is a wife, mother of three, and grandparent of eight.

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