Yesterday, while reading the day’s Corona virus news, I found myself remembering a short story that touched me deeply as an adolescent in the early 1960’s. At that time, we were living under a cloud of dangerous uncertainty, as we are now. During that era of the seemingly endless and often volatile Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation was a palpable presence.
In the short story (whose name I don’t recall), word has come over the radio that missiles armed with nuclear weapons have been launched by both sides, and that soon everyone and everything will likely be destroyed.
On hearing the news, an old woman who had been planting marigolds in her garden that morning, paused for a moment, took in the information, and then got back down on her knees and continued planting. I was – and still am – moved by her spending the last moments of her life contributing beauty to the world, even though within minutes there would likely be nothing left.
Protecting Ourselves and One Another
Now we are living under the shadow of another threat, the Corona virus, about which we still know so little – except that it is spreading and can be deadly. We who are over 65 appear to be most at risk, and as of yesterday, we have been ordered by the Governor of California to stay home until further notice.
It is vital that we each do all we can to minimize spreading the virus to others and to protect ourselves physically. At the same time, social distancing in all its forms – the shutting down of many businesses, the cancelling of social events, the loss of work and income, the closing of schools and churches, etc. – upsets daily routines and nurturing social rituals that are essential for emotional well-being. What can we do to nurture ourselves and one another when our lives are being disrupted on so many levels?
Cultivating Emotional Well-Being
Exhale deeply and often (deep breathing, especially exhaling, lowers stress and increases feelings of well-being.)
Stay informed enough, but focus on the beautiful, the kind, and the hopeful.
Be hospitable toward emotions like fear, anger, and sorrow that naturally arise in the face of danger, uncertainty, and loss. Allow them to pass through and to be the guides they are intended to be. The root meaning of emotion is “to cause to move,” and even uncomfortable emotions can alert us to our needs and help us to respond to – rather than react against – challenging and changing circumstances.
Stay connected to friends and family by phone, email, mail. etc.
Attend to what is most important most and let the rest go. For the woman in the story, planting marigolds mattered most in the last moments of her life. For me, so far, the virus has prompted me to get my affairs in better order and to communicate my love and my wishes to my sons; to write a story for my grandchildren; and to check in with friends and family by phone and by mail.
Stay flexible when usual forms of self-care are suspended and create new ones.
Spend time outdoors every day if you are fortunate enough to have a backyard, a balcony, or a porch. If not, watch nature documentaries on your phone or computer and savor the beauty and balance of the natural world.
Do whatever brings you joy, equanimity, hope – meditate or pray, read poetry, sing, dance, listen to music, play with art media, write letters to loved ones, garden, stay physically active, and get plenty of sleep.
Remember, you are not alone. Yesterday I talked to my friend Pam who lives in Italy where people are for the most part confined to their homes. She tells me that although the streets are deserted, people often call greetings to each other from their balconies and sometimes sing together. Doors are shut, but windows remain open to let in reminders of our kinship and our care for one another.