I just came across an inspiring story by Sylvia Baer, a literature professor at Rowand University in New Jersey. That’s her living very fully in the bee costume above. She offers some wisdom for the pandemic that I wanted to share.
In her story she describes how her family is now facing a deadly infectious disease for the third time in three generations. Her mother had dealt with polio and her grandmother had dealt with typhus. And now, the 3rd generation, Sylvia’s, is dealing with COVID-19. They had all experienced similar situations— quarantine, shortages and widespread death.
Sylvia asked her mother and grandmother how they had faced the fear, stress and isolation.
Here’s what they said:
“It was terrifying, yes, but we learned something important.” My grandmother nodded as my mother continued, “We learned that at times like those there is still life. At first we did nothing but wait and watch, but then we realized that we had life and the important thing was to have it, not to lose it by fear.”
Now my grandmother continued: “My mother-in-law told me that the biggest sin we could commit was to act dead when we were still alive. She would sing raucous country songs and we would laugh and dance. We drank a lot of tea and she would tell me stories of the old days. I found out that life doesn’t stop because you are forced inside.”
Then my mother continued, ”We were so lucky that you did not get sick. After a few weeks we ventured out again and you began playing with other kids. Slowly my fear subsided. But when I look at your picture I don’t remember that time as lost—I remember that I learned more about how to live.”
So here I am in our own scary time in 2020 America and I think about this today. I’m at home fretting. Fearful of what’s to come for myself, my family, my community, my world. Most of us are practicing self-isolation and it sometimes feels like time lost. But it’s not. I remind myself: No matter what your circumstances, the only time that is truly lost, as my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother taught me, is the time you forget to live.”
(This is the conclusion of a short piece she posted on her Facebook page.)
This is a priceless message for all us, but especially for those of us who are Driven, always trying to maximize life by planning, controlling, creating, producing, fixing, accomplishing and achieving.
Times like these might leave us feeling like we’re losing precious time–if we’re not in a situation to help.
And, for many of us, it feels wrong to savor life if there is something bad happening. As I’ve written about before, people who are compulsive tend to constantly scan for what’s wrong, and can’t relax until it’s fixed.
And we can’t fix this.
Sylvia’s mother and grandmother urged us to use the time to live as fully as we can, even in the face of death.
I can’t sing raunchy country songs, but I can listen to music, enjoy the books and movies I wouldn’t allow myself during normal times, savor the time my family, go for hikes, appreciate what I do have, make surgical masks to donate to our local hospital, and reflect on what’s most important to me.
But just as importantly I think it helps to make a decision to use the opportunity to grow psychologically. Rather than focusing on what we can’t do, we can use the opportunity to observe what goes on inside ourselves when we can’t work and control as we usually do.
Is it possible to still live fully?
The future is daunting. But it doesn’t have to be depressing.
I hope all of you are safe and well.