Grad School · Mental Health · Personal · Short-term/Acute Illness · Social Justice

Learning to Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time During a Pandemic

There is so much about this time that I do not understand – that I cannot understand.

It is so much bigger than me – than any of us.

It doesn’t matter how many articles I read or how much data I try to analyze. It will largely still be an encroaching and frightening mystery, even though I can try to put some important pieces together.

Photo by Silas Baisch on Unsplash.

I cannot control more than I can control in my own personhood, in my own body, and even that is still somewhat uncontrollable, despite how I try to enter or leave spaces in order to protect others. It’s an unprecedented time, and my best coping skills and thoughts are but a few grains of sand compared to this tsunami.

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash.

This time has reminded me of how difficult it is to accept seemingly irreconcilable emotional realities – how hard it can be to walk and chew gum at the same time (or, in this moment, sometimes sprint and try not to choke).

It is difficult to learn, accept, and integrate, but it’s more important than I can say.

I can grieve feeling isolated due to sheltering in place, and yet celebrate helping to flatten the curve by staying at home and being thoughtful with my body when I do have to go out in public. I can be grateful that I’m in a lower-risk bracket, and yet lament, fear, and pray for my friends and family members – and all of the people I don’t know – who are at the highest risk. I can be thankful to be part of an effort to reduce the number of people and employees present at the hospital I work at, and yet be heartbroken about temporarily not being able to do something I love, find purposeful, and think is more important than ever as many patients face difficult and even deadly realities without their loved ones physically by their sides. I can celebrate the many ways we’re learning to connect virtually, and yet remember the heartbreaking reasons why we’re not meeting in person.

grayscale photo of woman right hand on glass
Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash.

I can know and appreciate that my personal concerns are small potatoes during this time compared to the local and global reality of this pandemic, and yet acknowledge them as real, valid, and important to process as well.

This is a time when I – we – must think in terms of “and yet” rather than “but.” In our heads and surroundings, inside and outside of us, there are conflicting realities and feelings that cannot help but exist together, and if we ignore them, we put others and ourselves at risk.

woman laying down wearing white V-neck top covering eyes
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash.

We put ourselves at risk of pretending our own feelings aren’t real or valid. We put ourselves at risk of drowning in sorrow, pretending none of this matters and saying “screw it; I’m living my life as I would normally,” or numbing our feelings with any means we can find. All of these are attitudes that put us and others at real risk. We cannot deny half of what we’re seeing and experiencing just because it’s too hard to look at the whole.

It is really, really hard to learn to live with these contradictions – to be able to celebrate individual successes and mourn individual losses at a time when there are so many communal losses that are bigger, unfathomably so; to hate the personal consequences of following strict guidelines while also knowing that it’s the right thing to do; to deal with the reality of an economy that’s on the brink of disaster while also understanding why we’re doing things differently than usual – and yet we must.

We must learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

grayscale photo of person running in panel paintingsPhoto by David Werbrouck on Unsplash.

My work as a chaplain is to come alongside people and help them to imagine a more spacious reality where all of their truths can be true at once, a space where there can be flexibility, resilience, and gritty hope – and even laughter – amidst lamentation and heartbreak. To deny their pain would do nothing but a disservice, and to deny my own would do nothing but swallow me whole in denial.

As a world and as individuals, we must learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time. I have a few ideas how, and I’m always coming up with more.

I’m going to clean and decorate my room like I’m still going to be living here a while, even though I wonder about my job security.

I’m going to be in prayer. I’m going to celebrate getting to sleep in.

I’m going to catch up on some letters I’ve been meaning to write.

I’m going to video chat loved ones so I see faces and feel like I’m being transported out of my tiny, tiny room.

I’m going to breathe.

That’s kind of it.

I’m not challenging myself to some fitness routine or wild productivity standards. This is a pandemic. Nothing is normal, and I don’t have to follow capitalistic standards of productivity, success, and achievement.

I’m going to let myself cry about what’s going on in the world and in my heart.

I’m going to watch Netflix and YouTube and let myself laugh.

I’m going to keep believing that spring will come and the worst of this will pass soon.

I’m going to try to be – just be – in order to let the weeks of sheltering in place ahead of me be a kind of forced sabbath rather than a cage of anxiety and grief. It will be both, but I will try to walk out of the cage when I see myself trapped, and I know that I do not walk alone.

purple petaled flower
Photo by Biegun Wschodni on Unsplash.

Who walks with you, and how will you face this time?

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