3 Things the Pandemic Can Teach About Facing Our Troubles

“It’s still pitch black out,” my husband said. He knows I don’t like to drive in the dark, but I needed to get to southern Illinois by late morning. I climbed in the frosty car before sunrise and replied, “The good news is it’s only going to get lighter.”

My words hung in the air like a promise as I cautiously drove through the dark woods on the hilly, winding roads of Indiana. I heard a voice on the radio say this about the pandemic, “Things look dark right now, but there’s hope on the horizon.” Looking east, streaks of orange and pink glowed just below the bare tree line.

It occurred to me that our best reaction to the Coronavirus could provide a lesson in how to face any dark time in our lives by taking this three-step approach.

Face Facts. After a few months at my first job out of college, I reluctantly went to my dad in tears. I had racked up almost $300 on my American Express card and had no way to pay it. He looked at my budget and immediately saw it was unrealistic. He helped me make a more honest one and gave the same good advice I’d heard dozens of times growing up, “You always have to face the facts, kid.”

Similarly with the Coronavirus, we have to face the facts. As of this week, more than a quarter of a million people in the United States have now died from Covid-19, and the number of new infections is setting records every day. We also know there are scientifically proven things we can do to keep the virus from spreading so vigorously.

Do What You Can. When life gets dicey, I always turn to The Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This prayer, learned from my mother-in-law when I was a young mom, immediately centers me and helps me focus on what I can and can’t change when facing a problem.

As we continue to make tough decisions during this pandemic, we must separate wisdom from nonsense and have the courage to do what we can. The Center for Disease Control is still making these recommendations: Stay home when possible. Wear a mask in public settings. Wash hands often. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. If you must go somewhere, stay at least six feet away from others. We can’t control the virus, but we can do things to help protect ourselves and others.

Look on the Bright Side. A relative’s home in Georgia was recently destroyed by a 16,000 pound tree in the aftermath of a hurricane. She and her husband have since been living in a small hotel room with their dog and cat while dealing with insurance companies and all the stress of having their life suddenly turned upside down in the middle of a pandemic. This is not the first time the young couple has been dealt a crummy hand, but I’m struck by their gratitude no one was hurt and their faith things will eventually fall back into place.

No matter the situation, once we have faced the facts and done all we can, the only thing left to do is be hopeful. As I reached the interstate, the radio reported promising news of a Coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s words sounded like fatherly advice, “Just hold on a little longer.”

In 1650, Thomas Fuller wrote what has become a well-known and encouraging proverb, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Merging onto the highway, the sky was impossibly blue and the sun shone so brightly above the horizon, I reached for my sunglasses. 🙂

Question of the Week: How do you keep looking on the bright side during the pandemic or when facing personal troubles? Please leave your response in the comments. Wishing you a bright and healthy week!

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Why I Asked My Community to Remove Confederate Flags

After three months of being cooped up due to the Coronavirus lockdown, we knew our nephews, who live north of Indianapolis, would enjoy a couple of days visiting our home in the woods of southern Indiana.

They filled their stay to the brim with boating, fishing, swimming and kayaking. Wide-eyed, they watched a deer amble into the yard early one morning. Under the setting sun, they saw four young foxes play with abandon on the shore of the lake. It was almost enough fun to take their minds off these uncertain, tumultuous and frightening times.

Almost.

When they arrived, the boys tumbled out of the car and asked curiously, “Why are there so many Confederate flags around here?” My heart sunk. I hoped they’d be too busy playing on their phones to notice the symbol that dots the hilly drive to our home.

Along the country roads, at least a dozen Confederate flags proudly hang from trees, fly from houses, stick to truck bumpers and decorate front porches. (Note that Indiana was not part of the Confederacy, and the ubiquitous design seen on the Rebel flag never actually represented the Confederacy.)

 While roasting marshmallows one evening, I asked the boys what the Confederate flag meant to them. My eleven-year-old nephew quietly said, “It means they hate black people.” His thirteen-year-old brother added so softly it was nearly inaudible, “They wish the South won the Civil War and that there was still slavery.” Despite the warmth of the fire, a chill went down my spine.

A few days later, something I read by Martin Luther King, Jr. demanded my action, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency.”

Fueled by the fierce urgency of now, I submitted my column to our local newspaper, unsure if it would be published, which read in part –

This is neither a history lesson nor a political discussion. Rather, it is a plea to consider what that flag means to the people who pass by your house or vehicle. Neighbor to neighbor, it is a huge and humble request to consider removing Confederate flags from your property.

The editor of the paper emailed me back almost immediately. She thanked me for my column and assured me it would be featured in the next issue. She also invited me to be part of a newly formed county commission for human rights and told me about an upcoming solidarity rally for racial justice to be held that weekend smack in the middle of Brown County, Indiana.

The Confederate flag has generated controversy and impassioned debates for 155 years. What makes this time any different?

Because right now we are emerging from the unique stillness of a quarantine. Thanks to the pandemic, we were forced to take a collective time-out. Without our usual distractions, we are in a heighten state of awareness to better see the realities of our country and ourselves.

The headlines aren’t any different. But we are.

We find ourselves in what may be a once-in-a-lifetime position to finally open our eyes to the causes of racial injustice, pain and division. It will take much more than removing Confederate flags, but it would be a tangible start to making positive, lasting change for our children and our grandchildren.

And for my nephews – smart, kind, beautiful brown boys – who simply deserve to run among the wildflowers, jump in the lake and feel welcomed when they visit the joyful rural countryside of America’s Heartland.

A Poem that Spreads Hope (Not Germs)

 

feather

Long before the Coronavirus became part of our vocabulary, I planned to write this week about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers. I thought it a perfect poem to usher us through the last days of winter and into a lovely spring. Little did I realize the Belle of Amherst might help us find hope during a pandemic.

In this well-known poem, Dickinson uses a beautiful extended metaphor to compare hope to a selfless little bird perched in the soul of every human being. The poet reminds us hope and optimism are positive qualities we can all summon, especially during adversity.

In the first stanza, Dickinson creates the imagery of a bird endlessly singing a song of no words, just the purest form of hope. She reminds us in the second stanza that hard times don’t dissuade the little bird. In fact, that’s when the song is the sweetest. The pronoun I appears for the first time in the third stanza, revealing that hope helped her survive the tests and trials of her own life.

Dickinson is often thought of as a hermit, but perhaps she was practicing a healthy form of social distancing. She spent most of her adult life at her family home enjoying nature, writing poetry, and nurturing a close relationship with her siblings.

It seems we can all help stop the spread of the Coronavirus by following her lead and hunkering down for a little while. Maybe we can find time to relish the pleasures of home, watch spring miraculously unfurl, and hear the universal song of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about more than a century ago. §

(No. 314) “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
 
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me. §