Updated: Aug 26, 2020
A few nights ago Nancy and I were sitting on our porch. We were looking down the hill at the lake and in the far distance, past the I-90 bridge, we could see the peaks of Mount Baker. I was sitting on our comfy outdoor couch and our view was beautiful and expansive, but I felt out of body, uncomfortable. I told Nancy that I feel, almost all the time, like I am on a long plane ride in a very uncomfortable middle seat. If I move I can feel comfortable, but the feeling lasts only for a moment and then I'm back in the squished, contorted position, unable to recline, unable to relax. For brief moments I can find peace and joy and relief, but before too long I go back to despair and worry and longing.
Before this pandemic I worried, but not constantly. Though I might not have been able to recognize it, I felt a general sense of peace. This feeling of imminent fear, of hyper-vigilance that I have now, was not with me all the time. I could recline. I could relax. I wasn't waiting for an unexpected surge or siege to hit at any moment. The very acknowledgment of this loss of peace fills me with grief. I don't want this feeling, this interminable cramped plane trip feeling.
As I contemplated the feeling of emotional discomfort that I (and so many people I know) am experiencing right now, I became aware of my very black and white thinking with regard to this pandemic-- if the pandemic is over I will be comfortable; if the pandemic is here I will be in distress. I have no frame of reference for a reality such as we are living in right now.
There are places in the world where the daily struggle is so much more profound than I could ever imagine. Thinking about this helps me. This perpetual dis-ease so many of us are experiencing right now is not new for millions of people. People in war-torn countries or extreme poverty or exploitive or abusive situations experience this feeling every day. What do they do? They find ways to get through it, one day at a time. They live with the struggle because they have to. Right now we are riding a wave that we, as individuals cannot stop. I cannot change the course of this pandemic. No matter how hard I work, I cannot change it. This helplessness is where my greatest discomfort lives.
I began to think about other times in my life that I've been uncomfortable or in distress. Recently I was on a very long, arduous hike. The way up was exhausting and scary and the way down was jarring and practically wrecked my knees. At the end of that hike I was so happy! The struggle was over and I could sit in the car and drink long gulps of water. I could sink into a feeling of accomplishment and relief. There would be no more hiking that day and I could rest.
Or when I gave birth and was in labor for close to two days. When my midwife forbade me from getting horizontal and made me walk the stairs and the streets to get the baby moving. When she had me doing triangle pose to open my hips at the thirty-sixth hour of my endless labor. At the end of it all Lucia was born. The struggle was over and I was filled with lightness and joy.
But this pandemic is long and it is universal. It's not about me climbing a mountain or moving through the stages of childbirth. It's about billions of people working together to contain this virus. It's about leaders supporting communities and businesses and people to have enough food and housing and money to do the right thing. The little drops in the bucket that I add to the cause-- wearing a mask, social distancing, limiting contacts, not flying, even my work as a contact tracer-- feel meaningless in the face of this vastly expansive virus. So I sit in the middle ground, helpless, comfortable and safe for moments on my porch, but filled with fear and doubt when I think about the hugeness of this pandemic for even two minutes.
This is uncomfortable. This is insane. I want out. I want off this plane. But I don't get to choose that option. None of us does. So what is the answer? What is my answer? I once heard someone say, "hope lives in our memories." I've found this to be true. I think about what I know from the much smaller struggles in my life. When I look back at these painful, uncomfortable times to recall what got me through, here's what I remember: I had faith that the experience (the mountain, the labor, the breakup....) would end eventually; I trusted my own strength and ability to endure the pain and discomfort. Remembering connects me to my resilience and gives me hope that this pandemic won't last forever. We really will get off this plane one day.