I Did Better Last Pandemic


[Art by commission from my brilliant nieces.]

[NOTE: This first half is a work of satire. If you like this kind of humor and it helps you let yourself off the hook, keep reading. If you receive grace better through gentle reasoning, read this. Or just skip to the end.]

The last time a novel virus swept through the world, I was on top of it.

I’m not doing as well this time.

The last time I saw these graphs with lines arching upwards, indicating more people dying, I didn’t feel all this anxiety. When I got messages from friends telling me they couldn’t work and wondering how they would pay rent, I absorbed it. When people with depression and addictions told me they’d lost their good structure and support systems, I took it all in.

Last time around, I learned French and Russian. I thought those would help most, because I also learned ballet. I picked up the cello, but then thought better of it and started playing the harp, instead. More soothing. I did better last time.

I ate so healthily last time. I didn’t consume ice cream. I didn’t have seconds on ice cream. I didn’t start spiking my ice cream. I ate broccoli. I learned to like celery. I started pressing my own acai juice. I grew my own acai palm trees, which isn’t easy since palm trees generally don’t grow here. I don’t want to exaggerate, but last time, when it was over, I had to throw away all our chips and chocolate, unopened, because they had expired.

My inner peace went off the charts last time. When I got news of extremely vulnerable populations who might suffer catastrophically, I simply found my center, breathed deeply, and sent out good thoughts. It really wasn’t a problem.

If memory serves, last time around our kids were younger and required more attention and I provided perfect homeschooling lessons, two hours of brain-stimulating physical activity every day, and taught them to sing in four-part harmony. “Harmony” was really our theme last time. I remember thinking, after the first month, “Wow, I can’t remember the last time they squabbled. Or even disagreed. Or even spoke impolitely.” I’m telling you, the last time the world shut down, we really took it in stride. And we did a lot of striding–around and around our 1400 square feet–and barely looked at screens at all. If at all. Maybe we never did? Perhaps just for homeschooling.

Here’s a difference I really remember from last time: when the predictions and guidelines and restrictions and timelines kept changing, we rolled with it (Baby). All that change and uncertainty didn’t really ruffle us, for some reason.

One last thing I just know we handled better last time was all our plans. Sure, we had a beautiful vacation all booked plus several beloved friends had plane tickets to come see us, but I think we just randomly guessed something was coming and cancelled right in time to get a full refund on everything, plus our friends all set to work writing great novels or textbooks or painting masterpieces–one of them wrote a symphony, if memory serves–and we actually congratulated ourselves for having them contribute to humankind rather than merely visiting us.

I can’t quite put my finger on why the last worldwide pandemic didn’t get to me the way this one has. Perhaps I just need higher expectations.

I’m going to go work on teaching the cats Russian now.

Satire isn’t really my native language (though sarcasm is). I do enjoy The Onion but sometimes it’s too painful for me.

The purpose of satire, of course, is to make us see through something false or ridiculous by taking it to a logical extreme.

We’re living through a freaking pandemic. It’s stressful and overwhelming and no one planned for our society to come to a screeching halt. We’re going to be okay, in the big picture. I say that by faith. I’m not afraid, I’m not freaking out, but I do feel anxiety and dread pooling in my chest and I have to find ways to vent them again. And again. Reading the news does the opposite.

So I’m trying to find the balance of staying informed without driving myself crazy, offering support without getting swamped myself, staying busy and productive without condemning myself for not doing more.

No one is a perfect parent and sure as shooting no one is a perfect parent during a pandemic. (Say that three times fast.) If you have some good moments with your kids, you’re doing fine. Even if you have some bad moments with your kids–as we all do–you’re doing fine. Repentance doesn’t require beating yourself up. The Father of the Prodigal Son doesn’t rub it in. He embraces. You are loved and you are doing fine and if--okay, let’s say even though–you’ve screwed up, you are not condemned.

You. Are. Loved.

As I told a friend recently, I’ve been learning to give myself grace for over thirty years and have made it my central focus the last six or so. Living in Nicaragua, trying to love people suffering poverty when I felt so unqualified and incompetent, razed my belief in how I earned my worth with God.* That process hurt, a lot, but freed me to know God’s unconditional love much more. It was worth the pain.

Ready for this? Even giving ourselves grace, accepting ourselves as imperfect (and sinful) and believing God loves us anyway, takes time. It takes patience and gentleness with ourselves because we keep trying to revert back to “but I should have,” “but I could have,” “why didn’t I?” Giving ourselves grace takes grace. We aren’t perfect at accepting ourselves as imperfect, at believing that God can love us in our imperfect state. But God does. Jesus showed us. God tells us all the time. That’s what Easter means. Resurrection is God’s love for imperfect us. God loves us and gives us life.

In one way, this might appear the hardest time to learn grace. “Let me try it when everything isn’t so stressful and looks like it’s falling apart, when I don’t feel so helpless.” But my lesson was, exactly when I feel helpless is when I can best learn grace. Because I know I need it right now.

Beating yourself up will not make you handle this pandemic better. It won’t make you parent better or learn great hobbies. Living by grace can help you handle this crisis, and everything else in your life, by freeing you to do what you can and accepting your limitations.

God is pleased with you and loves you right now. In fact, God delights in you. As you are.

Whether or not you learn ballet in Russian.

PS If you are learning new things, starting projects, and getting creative, wonderful! I’m not making fun of you, I promise. We all must find our own best ways to cope.

*I would not have said I was earning anything with God before that. I knew how to sound like I believed in grace. I did believe in it, to a degree. But I also believed in my own ability to earn my oxygen.

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