This May Never Be Over, But It Could Be a Good Start
By Jane Tawel
April 25, 2020
A friend of mine wrote today about crying, laughing, eating and drinking, and then crying and laughing some more, and feeling alone, and feeling overwhelmed by the few family members she was stuck with at home for the past forty days. She wrote about how “40” is a symbol in numerology and is the number of “completion” in Hebrew mythology, and how she woke up distressed that this whole sheltering in, pandemic, quarantine, is not by a long stretch “completed” after forty days (or more depending on where you live).
This friend of mine is one of the truly great “livers”, in my opinion. Just to give you an idea — She and her husband plant a thriving garden of veggies and flowers that they enjoy all year long and share generously with others, they raise bees and sell honey, and make products from the honey and other natural sources grown in their yard, all while running two thriving small businesses in the Middle of American, and while caring with honesty, panache and deep love for an adult child with special needs who will always need their care. I wish I were half as amazing as the woman my friend is. And to top it off, what she writes and journals and then shares, especially during this time of Corona Virus, is so much all around just better than what I have ever written. So, when she wrote this one thing today, in the middle of another delightful, meaningful, moving post, I was rather stunned by it. What she wrote was:
“Maybe I have been looking at it all wrong. I have been looking at the outcome, and not the journey”.
And I was stunned, because if this A+ friend has been “looking at it all wrong”, then I must have been getting worse grades in living than the C + I was grading myself!
What I realized when I read her words, is that this should not be some new idea to me, but it always seems to blindside me, just like this viral pandemic seems to have blindsided the world. I keep thinking, I have taken pretty good care of my spiritual health, in the same way I keep thinking I have taken good care of my physical health, and then something happens like my amazing friend saying this about herself, or I start suffering extreme physical pain, (or a worldwide quarantine could do it), and I realize – “Well, drat! I really wasn’t doing such a great job at either the spiritual or the physical. Darn it!”
And the thing is, you can’t go back and change any of it. As much as I wish I could, I don’t get do-overs. But my fear is that, I won’t take the past seriously enough, to change the present. Because the Present, at least to a large extent, is the only thing that we ever truly can change. If we can’t change the circumstances of the Past or Present, we can certainly change our attitude towards them and our decisions that we can make in the Now in order to have a better Future. My fear for our world is that we will try to change things only in order to protect the Future to remain the same as the Past. And surely we will realize after this, that the Past is unsustainable as it was, both spiritually and physically, individually and world-wide. I fear that we will keep trying to move too quickly forward, forgetting what we have learned when this is the Past, and that we won’t make different decisions that can profoundly change things because we will rush willfully and blindly toward an un-different, indifferent Tomorrow. My fear is that we will try to keep looking for the same outcomes, and we will not have learned that we must look at the journey instead.
And so, the fear is that because we can’t seem to recognize the journey’s importance, we will once more mess everything all up, all over again. We are so anxious to move on, keep moving, move life along, that we keep forgetting that we can only ever live in this very moment. So we should try to do the best we can with it and in it. We also forget, that we can as humans be so much better than we think we can be, if we think we must be. I want to remember the feeling of accomplishment lived into the “Must” of this momentary time.
The problem is that I still spend too much time wishing something would be over or conversely, that something would arrive. Like hoping for an ending to an illness or counting the minutes until I will receive a Next-Day Package, I waste a lot of my life in “Not Nows”. Today, throughout my part of the world, people are “chomping at the bit”, as we used to say. They are ready to have this be over, and the world to “return to normal”. And it is hard not to want to rush out there and pretend it was all just a glitch, a nightmare to wake up from, a time of sleep, not action; a time of pause from life, not life. As the weather warms, and the birds sing more sweetly, and the bulbs planted last fall rise to show their glorious blooms, and we miss more and more the hugs and smiles and meetings at coffee places– it feels like we should be past this time and on our way back to accomplishing our goals, getting on with our lives, rising to the new challenges. We are in danger of thinking this is a pause, but it’s not a pause. This is the where and when of the real action. This is the real life we are meant to live. This is in fact, the only life we can live. Right Now.
And maybe only a very few of us will realize it, but we can try to encourage each other as friends, as survivors, to believe that for this time of confinement, of sheltering in, of enforced care of others, and healing rest and being alone in a reformulated communion with oneself and those we cherish most– that this is exactly and fully how life was meant to be lived. Always. Every day.
Maybe a few of us will hold on to what we have begun to learn during this season of learning. Maybe some of us will finally remember what it is to actually just “Be”; to just “Live”. Not just being as a self-satisfying panacea, but just being as a life provoked into purpose. Being alive in the journey of one more lovely step, in the allotment of one more chance, one more moment, one more “now”.
The true tragedy that may finally either destroy our species or the whole planet will be that not enough people come out of this time of repentance and renewal changed enough to change the world. The vastly more horrible thing will be if we come out of the time too soon, and that people we love will have died in vain, served in the health and food supply front-lines in vain, remembered what love and life really feel like in the joy of being alive – all in vain–and we not only start up another pandemic, but end a time of reflection about what we need to do – must do! — that will radically change not only our own course but the course of the world. What will be the very worse outcome of this Corona Virus will be if we all continue to live as if each of us is only worth what we accomplish for ourselves or the outcomes we seek only in terms of the fleeting importance of money. What will kill us in the end, is if we continue to squander our very lives today, by living for what we can never own – tomorrow. What will be the end of true physical and spiritual forward motion, is if we think we only had to temporarily love others as we would have them love us; that this was merely a “war-time” measure that was inflicted only in order to protect our bodies from a pandemic, and not the more important “peace-time” measure needed to keep acting in determined commitment to loving others and caring for the world in order to protect our planet, our neighbors, and our own very souls.
I have been “emerging” slowly for the past years into this same, profound idea that my friend wrote in her post — “It is not about the outcome, it is about the journey”. But this pandemic and the quarantine and safety rules, should help me understand more deeply, not only that each moment is precious, but that the journey was never meant to be about “ME”. It is not a journey of “self-actualization” or “self-realization” or “personal salvation” or any of the other self-centered religions we have created. Surely some of us will realize that the religions who claim that by saving myself I will have a good “outcome”, are based on deeply and immorally flawed theology. Surely some people may have a eureka moment and realize that it is pure foolishness to continue to act on the political systems that base success on the idea that more money will solve all our problems. Hopefully many of us will make new and better decisions by seeking only that which we truly need, and maybe we can then save the planet and other struggling communities from our greed in “going after”, all that we think we want.
Surely some of us will be willing to keep living after we are back to our “normals” by deciding that “normal” is better when we are changed by the past, and committed to a future world for our children, by living more wisely, graciously, honorably, nobly, and lovingly, in this precious moment.
This latest experience in this Journey of Life, makes me realize that I have far too often tried to heal myself and still hang onto my profound misunderstanding of what life is about. I have believed the Big Lie and continued to lie to myself about the importance of outcomes. I have not committed wholeheartedly to the Strong Medicine of Being, and the Paradoxical Natural Cure of Joying in the Journey. I have instead numbed myself with spiritual palliatives, emotional over -the -counter medicines, and a life-time of self-medication of false hopes, selfish pride, and anxious strivings. Then, with the ramifications of the Corona Virus Worldwide Pandemic, it is as if, suddenly, I am rushed into the emergency room for surgery.
This metaphor of the world’s population being in a spiritual hospital is paradoxically all too real for a world with loved ones being hospitalized in frightening numbers, and loved ones risking their own lives serving as medical professionals, support staff, and emergency personnel. But metaphorically, for each of us in a very real way, living in the Time of Corona Virus, is like being in an emergency room at a hospital. The World is our Hospital, and the stories we tell make all of us into characters in the unfolding plot. You may be the child, who has to wear a mask to “sit next to” your ill relative, or you might be the family member in the “waiting room”, who is still able to go to the “hospital canteen” for food for the others waiting it out. You may be the person who works to supply the food for the people in “the World’s Hospital”. You may be the exhausted “hospital” worker, still able and willing to care for our World Family by supplying the “Hospital’s” needs or by saving the lives of the patients. You may be the surviving mourner, grieving in a world that is unable or that has forgotten how to mourn with one another other.
You may even be, the antagonist, the fool, the enemy, who spreads or derides the consequences of the World’s illnesses, the World’s evils; the character who wants his rights and own success and selfish ideas of personal freedom, over the triumph of Goodness; the one who doesn’t care about others’ suffering, and who will stand up for his own rights even when it will eventually be the thing that kills him too. You may be the one who lives for yourself or your beliefs against the good of the whole world, in order to gain – what? Are we not able to finally look at the antagonists of the World’s Story for what they are? Pathetic excuses for what humans were created to be.
But we mustn’t be too proud. For we all play the fool and the antagonist at various points in our life’s story, whether we like to admit it or not. But today, we are faced with a paradigm shifting new story – the action rising has reached a climax we did not anticipate – there has been a foreshadowing of this Time of Corona Virus, but we missed what the signs meant; and now the Climax is here, and we as the only protagonist we have in the writing of our own Life Story get to decide – what path, what story-line, will I choose? What will this catalyst of change do to my story? Will I be the hero in The Journey’s great Quest? When I finally get to leave this time of “symbolic hospitalization by fiat”, will I continue to seek a purpose in my journey and meaningful opportunities to give healing and love to others? Will I live with a sense of joy in the journey, only “on the page” I can live in today, without cheating and flipping Life’s Pages ahead to rush the end? Will I live as if the only outcome that matters, is that Love wins?
Each of our homes, during this pandemic, has become a “waiting room”, and each of us characters in the unfolding drama. In another sense, each of us is the person who has been “rushed to the hospital”. We have been trying to live a life where we treat our spiritual ailments on our own, and now, we are “forced” to face the fact that we need outside expertise and serious intervention, and we need each other, in order to live. We have to finally make the tough decision to “operate” on what ails us. What is wrong with us, won’t get better without some serious professional intervention and tough decisions and sacrificial love of people whose names we may not know or those we may never meet.
We must commit to incising the bad stuff, surgically, painfully even, removing the diseased parts of our souls and of our world. And then, with equal parts skillful study and hopeful faith, we must replace the bad stuff, with some good organs, like a heart of love, or good blood, like a throbbing, flowing zest for living in the Now, or a good something that we might simply call a Second Chance or a New Life. And this New Life or Second Chance, we have discovered, has to be available for everyone, everywhere, if we want a healthy life for ourselves; and it has to be applied to the Planet of Natural things and of animals if we want this Renewed Life to continue in the World and in a viable future world for the children.
We are all a part of one Big Story. Except for those trying to rush to the end, who keep living into some kind of on-demand commercial break. Tragically, some people still believe that they are the only character in the World’s Story who matter and so the outcome for them becomes more important than the plot line of the World’s Story. And they will continue to think and behave this way, to the World’s great loss. But I don’t have to choose to continue that way. Although I cannot choose the outcomes, as long as I am so privileged to live one more moment, I can choose the way I will journey.
I hope I can come out of this surgical necessity, this time of “extreme measures”, with more understanding and acceptance of what life is meant to be in the Now, and more joy in the journey of the moment. I hope I can sacrifice for others and therein find what Love truly is. I hope I can be a daily “organ donor” of my heart, for others in this world who are in need. I hope I can donate my Life’s blood to the flowing course of The Tao. I don’t think I will be completely healed; there will still need to be a lot of my drinking of the bitter medicine of humility and suffering, and of the palliative care of struggling to put others before myself. I will need to remind myself that happiness is fleeting, but joy in the journey is profoundly and truly found in some mysterious way, in the Forever of the moment.
In all moments, with enough wisdom and love, life is good. And yes, paradoxically that means an acceptance that Life must continue to include tears and mourning, sorrow and pain, confusion and feeling alone, doubt and fear; for these also are the things that make us more human, more a part of what happens to each individual part of the whole, and more in recovery and restored health, along with all of those others who lie in a sort of Spiritual ICU Time, waiting to be transformed to a New Normal Life and released back into the World’s Wondrous Story.
I will have scars large and small left from the surgical intervention of Corona Virus Time; but I will be remiss if I cover those over with business as usual and self-medicating measures. I will feel all the things I have felt for the past forty days, and not have a quarantine to blame it on, and it will be tempting to find a scapegoat or to vent my boredom or sorrow or anger on someone else. I will find happiness in the small things, but I will be tempted to not let that be enough. I will be tempted to use the excuse that I am only human, without remembering that a human being is capable of great and glorious things, sacrificial things, lovely and true things, and yes, even Godlike things. I have seen humans do those Godlike things during this frightening, worldwide-suffering time, and though it will be easy to forget, I must make metaphoric plaques on my soul’s memory walls of all that occurred in the name of Love during this “Hospital Time”.
I must determine today and every day that as long as I still have life, I must remember that there are great human beings in the world, doing amazingly great things; and it also true that there is the enduring reality that in this moment, I and each of us, can do small things, with great love.
So today, on this day of “completion”, which even after the complete number of forty days that my friend noted, still is so very incomplete, we can, if you like, make a sort of “ending”. We can make this the day we end our ultimately hopeless, purely self-centered care, and begin to see our lives as so much more important than that. We have a whole “Hospital of a World” to care for, to be part of, and to do our part for. We must each of us accept that there is little we have ever truly been in control of in terms of our unknowable futures, so it is best to live well and in loving-wellness with ourselves and others. It is best to live this small life, with great love in the only thing we have for sure — this very, single, precious moment.
The Hebrews have a good word for that sense we long for, of completion or “wellness”. It is called “Shalom”, and to me, it is a shorthand word for something like “a bigger than life, bigger than just my life, bigger than all of our lives, a great and good and Godlike kind of Peace-giving, soul-satisfying Wholeness”. Shalom means a completed circle of one’s life in this moment. All the dots connected. The circle’s center protected. Shalom.
I can come full circle in this very moment at least, and make a pact with myself, not to forget. Not to leave this time with a broken circle. To remember to keep connecting all the dots, one journey’s step at a time.
Just as after forty days of wondering in the wilderness, the ancient Hebrews committed to “Remember”. Just as the Native Tribes after the colonial genocides, and the persecuted Jews after the Holocaust, and the Armenians after the War of 1920, and the Rwandan Genocide of the 1990’s and on and on and tragically, historically on – we can determine, that the deaths as well as the surviving lives of this Corona Virus Pandemic will not be in vain. We can determine to Never Forget. And although humans seem determined to foolishly, selfishly put behind them history’s lessons in atrocities and pandemics alike, as if somehow by forgetting, we can “move on” to different outcomes; we can help each other to remember what we’ve learned. Because though we can not change the past, we should learn from it. History proves that the Outcome will always be tragically the same, if we continue to forget and dismiss our best Teachers and Most Important Lessons. But we are given a chance today, to remember The Way, to live in Good Health spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and willfully. We are given the opportunity to step forward and to walk rightly and righteously in the Great Journey. I can do all I need to do for now. I just need to take the first step.
We can determine, today, this time around, when this metaphoric Hospital World is a thing of the past, and the Story of the Corona Virus has ended this chapter, to Not Forget; to Remember how we should have been living all along. We who get a new chapter to live in, after this one is over, must not take lightly our continual and precious presence in The Big Story.
Even if I am merely a rather unimportant, bit character in the World’s Big Story, I am responsible for the plot line and character development of my own little life and tiny soul. It would be a horrible shame if after my time on the “operating table” of this Time of World Sorrow and Loss, I would survive only to go back to not caring for myself as I must and not loving others as I should. It would be such a waste of “good medicine” if I don’t change even further by living physically rightly, and spiritually righteously.
I can determine that this time I have spent during the lock-down, will not be something I want to “get through”, like a pause in my life, but something I want to “go through”, like a passageway in my life’s journey. This unique chapter in the World’s Story may complete the cycle, that metaphoric “forty days” or forty months or forty years; but no matter how long this troubling, difficult chapter in our lives lasts, it will not be a “completion”, unless we build truthfully and lovingly on the story line. The true troubles of this time, will never end, unless we make a new start. Many of us will choose to let this chapter end and we will force ourselves to move on by forgetting the lessons we should have learned. We will all be tempted to make the next chapter of our own plot-lines, and of our planetary setting, into an ultimately unsatisfying selfish progression of our own hubris-fueled desires, and it will end up as just one more tragedy in a long endless tale of the tragic outcomes of history. But some of us, can hopefully, let this time in our lives be the beginning, not the end.
The World is ready, is desperate, for a New Story with new adventures and new journeys and determinedly brave and spiritually healthy heroes that all combine to lead up to a new final outcome, and a satisfyingly, almost heavenly, one might say, ending. Are we ready to start right now, in this moment, to live like we want to be a part of that Story?
When I was a child, I read the world like a child’s book, to be entertained, and to be careless with, dog-earing the pages, and not caring whether I lost borrowed stories or even remembered them. But now that I am an adult, I must read the World’s Story as an adult should. The World’s Story — and my neighbor’s story — and my neighbor’s neighbor’s story, and even my supposed enemy’s story — should not be some fiction I put away blithely while I remain unchanged. Every story of the world, every tale of the planet, every memory of a life, should help to change me to be spiritually healthier and more committed to a Good End.
Every day should be read like the label of a life-saving medicine, and each moment I am so privileged to live, must be treasured as a precious blip on my soul’s heart rate monitor.
Are we ready to let our Time in Spiritual Surgery, convince us to take this new chance at life, this new step on our Life-journey, this new chapter with all the gratitude and a deepened desire to “play it forward”; all the love that this very, precious moment of Now deserves?
When we get out of “Hospital” will we let Providence guide our moments to help create in our Beloved World and for our fellow journeyers, a New Beginning at Life?