I have lived through fear and panic like this before—the fear and panic that we, as a world, are living in.
There’s a profound comfort that I take in the entire world experiencing a shared pain. I, for example, am experiencing the same fear at the same time as someone on the other side of the world. I get them and they get me, and we will never know each other. That’s empathy.
At the same time, I get that others haven’t experienced this before, and are doing their best to figure out how to live with all the pressure. So, I hope my story—how I survived—will spread some calm and peace during this unprecedented time.
It starts with a song. One I disliked.
I used to hate the Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” The only words I could repeat were, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” My head would shoot to everyone I could lose, or the fact that everyone I love could lose me. The song, the phrase, the “depressing” message didn’t make sense to me. Until it did.
While my husband was in the thick of suffering through chemotherapy to battle stage III rectal cancer, my 13-year-old son’s kidneys started to inexplicably fail.
It all went from zero to 10 and got real, real fast. I didn’t have to live like I was dying; I had to live like everything I knew and loved might die.
When I heard the song again as my son and I were driving home from his first week in the hospital, I got it; I heard all the other words—and I felt them deeply.
“And I loved deeper, And I spoke sweeter, And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…”
That stuff that used to infuriate or frustrate me just didn’t matter. That stuff I was so worried about before wasn’t accessible anymore.
For the first time in my life, I was forced to have one singular purpose. I wasn’t torn, I wasn’t conflicted, I didn’t battle guilt about never being enough for any one thing that needed me. My situation drove focus and presence into my life like never before. I could only look where my feet were standing, and my body was pointing, and find the next right thing to do.
And that next right thing did, in fact, appear every single time. It guided me the entire way through, step-by-step.
My long, perfectly curated list of questions about statistics and odds, and the rest of the plan for the doctor written in perfectly organized handwriting, in specifically designated notebooks, dwindled.
The incessant researching for hours after the kids went to sleep slowly transitioned into a hot bath and Netflix. I continued to educate myself enough to participate in the solution, I just didn’t live under the delusion that I alone could or would be the solution.
Experiencing powerlessness in the sense that I ran into something for the first time in my life that I couldn’t just muscle my way through was unfamiliar. I did everything in my power every day, not knowing if any of it would change the outcome.
I had to turn over the outcome—the lives—of two of the most precious things in my life because, well, I had no choice. And do you know what that felt like? Freedom, actually.
I had to learn to go from living life from a deluded sense of having control, to living life from a space of having faith.
In the beginning, my turn-it-over way of living was slightly born out of a “fake it until you make it” place, because I had three little sets of eyes looking to me to gauge how afraid they should be; but then it shifted.
I started to desperately seek out life rafts around me.
For the first time, I wasn’t trying to save everyone from drowning. I was instantly thrust into being a human being instead of a human doing. And before I knew it, I looked up long enough to see that I was surrounded by life rafts. Enough life rafts that I knew, felt, and believed that no matter what the rapids were ahead, I would not drown. This knowing became the antidote for any fear I would ever feel again.
Since that internal shift occurred, all I can see are the life rafts around me—the ones that surrounded me in the midst of every pain I had ever felt, but couldn’t take my eyes off the impending rapids to see.
When I fear losing someone I love, or something terrible happening, I now have the ready-made end of the sentence: “I’ll deal with it, and if I don’t know how to deal with it, I’ll be surrounded by what I need to deal with it.”
My favorite all-time saying that I heard a long time ago and repeat often is, “If you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean, pray to God but still row your boat.”
My higher power does not choose pain for me. They are aware of it and see it coming, but cannot choose to stop it, just as I cannot choose for my own children to not experience pain. My higher power knows what is going to happen, and seeds my entire life with the exact tools I will need to survive. Tools for whatever I will need to survive. They are there if I choose to seek them out.
I do pray for miracles. I pray for the “provide me with the strength, tools, people, and ability to move forward no matter what” type of miracles. And do you know what? I’ve experienced those miracles countless times.
The people who showed up with food at exactly the moment I had no idea how I was going to pick up one little from dance, the other from baseball, and help the third with her homework while my husband was sick from chemo.
The miracle of the kids having cultivated the exact villages they needed in dance and baseball—when their hobbies turned into a second family that met the needs that I wasn’t capable of providing.
All these beliefs are being re-sharpened and re-affirmed in this incredibly confusing, sad, and scary time.
I don’t know what level of suffering lies ahead for our collective world or my little world—no one does.
I again find myself having no other option than to look down at my feet and walk in the direction of the next right thing.
I connect, I’m honest, I help, I am helped, I share, and I move forward.
I control the tangible things that I can, and I turn the rest over.
I can’t control the people that are not as careful as I am right now, I can’t control the people who spew anger and blame or fear, I can’t control what the long-term consequences of it all will be.
I don’t live like I’m dying. I would very much like not to die. I just live with the knowing that I’m all in, and yet cannot control how it ultimately plays out.
And so, I notice what is beautiful, what is painful, what is inspiring, what is disappointing, what is selfish, what is selfless, what is cruel, and what is loving.
I don’t view my situation through the lens of control; I simply aim to experience it, to be guided by it—all of it—and then, I walk through it.
I keep being fearful that the gifts I gained from those painful events will whittle away—that I will forget the lessons. But they haven’t yet, and they won’t. They are in me, and I can’t un-know something that I now know.
I know that when this COVID-19 situation passes (and it will pass), time will go by, and some people will forget the gifts of community, family, connection, and genuine time. Life will go back to hectic, disconnected, and business as usual.
But I also know that some will not. Some will focus right now on building traditions that will last, memories—both painful and beautiful—that will last; and they too will know things they cannot un-know.
In these uncertain times, what I am certain of is that the way of life in this little world of mine will never go back to business as usual. We will continue to find the life rafts and collect the gifts given. For us, looking for and giving out life rafts is a great distraction for fear and uncertainty, and it is lasting.
We could hunker down, watch movies, do puzzles, and look out just for our families while riding it out. That would be surviving, and I get that it works for some. I applaud surviving, because that is all that we can do sometimes.
But I’ll share what’s working for us:
Trying to create something that will exist and carry on when this ends.
We have had a tiny fairy forest hidden in the trees that created a ton of magic and creativity for our kids. Now, my kids are building it up for other kids in the neighborhood, getting the word out, and adding new stuff every night so that just one more kid might feel that same magic. They might actually have developed some unhealthy beliefs that lots of kids will find magic in it from now until forever but, I’ll let them dream.
Finding time to share meals together.
We have found time to eat together as a family for a week straight. I’m sad to say that hasn’t happened, ever. But now, we go around and share the highlights of our days, what we are grateful for, and say our prayers. We will keep that tradition.
Showing up for others.
I keep showing up for the young people living away from their families who are scared. And I will do my best to protect both their mental and physical health. Showing up for others in any way we can is crucial.
Ten years from now, we will look back at how we showed up. It’s a time I assume most of the world will remember; everyone will walk away with their own story. I hope we look back and see how we showed up in those stories, and feel proud.
How to Enjoy Life Amidst the Coronavirus Fear: Your Go-To Guide from Books to Podcasts & Wellness Practices.
What the Coronavirus is Teaching Me: 5 Lessons from Uncertain Times.
The Artist’s Stay-at-Home & Stay Sane Guide.
10 Simple Ways to Boost your Immunity without Leaving the House.