A major lesson that I believe has been pounded into the collective consciousness over the last few years has been our complete lack of control over our lives.
No one wanted a global pandemic to shut down the world as long as it did, no one wanted to still be wearing masks three years later, no one wanted a vicious resurgence of all our former viruses keeping everyone home sick during the holidays. And yet I, like many others, I find myself confined to my room during this merry week of Christmas with a case of influenza.
There is so much that we cannot control. I made a lot of holiday plans this year to create magic and happy memories for my kids. We were able to do most of them, but all it takes is one microscopic virus to shut everything down.
My husband, a devout Christian committed to praying for his friends and family before bed every night, had no control over the fact that my own faith in God has completely dissolved. He envisioned a lifetime of shared beliefs, family church attendance, and communal growth in Christ with me that is no longer in the cards. We are forced to adapt.
I was reading an article recently about the rise of public vitriol. Road rage, cussing out staff, and incredibly short fuses have become increasingly normal in public behavior. Several of the country’s National Parks have seen their minimum-wage, teen-aged and college-aged staff members in tears over the way guests have been treating them. Everyone is scared right now and doesn’t know how to handle it very well. People are scared of getting sick, people are scared of the economy and rising prices and how they’re going to be able to afford the things they want and need, people are scared of the future of this world and this planet as anyone who’s paying any attention knows that the situation is increasingly dire.
Fear is the great equalizer. Those on the right are afraid of what looks to them like an amoral society taking over – of the dissolving of firmly held norms such as sexuality and gender, of open borders that threaten their assumed job security, of an atheistic society that they no longer recognize. Those on the left are terrified of the imminent effects of climate change and what that will mean for their children and grandchildren, of growing nationalism and fundamentalism that are violently intolerant of diverse opinion, and of the collapse of democracy.
In what seems like a counterintuitive reaction, I have discovered that embracing the lack of control has been oddly comforting. Realizing that I have very little power as to what happens in my life has freed me up to embrace the life that I have without bitterness or resentment. In ceasing to fight against the hypothetical what-ifs and longing for better days, I have been able to embrace reality and the many things for which I can be grateful.
As I’ve been holed up in my room for the last two days, my kids have been making me cards and drawings that they slip through the crack in the bottom of the door. I hear their sweet little voices as they run around the house playing pretend and talking to themselves while their dad is trying to get some work done still. And I am brought to tears with love for this little family of mine. Separation, even simply that of a closed door and an isolated room, makes the heart grow fonder.
I’m pretty sure that I got this virus from my job, as the residents in my assisted living facility had a small wave of influenza over the previous weekend. And instead of getting angry or upset, I can feel grateful that I have a job right now. One that I actually love and appreciate, even if it does get me sick sometimes. I’m grateful that between my husband and I, we are miraculously able to work less than 80 hours a week and pay our bills with plenty of time left over to spend with our sweet kids.
A phrase my husband and I have long held dear is to hold on to our things loosely. We make plans for the future, for vacations and adventures, but hold them loosely knowing that things might not work out. We appreciate our material possessions, yet hold on to them loosely knowing anything can be taken away in a heartbeat. Rather than becoming completely cynical and expecting the worst, we strive to remain optimistic with a heavy dose of realism to counterbalance.
I certainly never expected that my faith journey would take me down this particular path either. I have had to grieve the loss of my beliefs as I am confronted with the side effects of the loss over and over again. And yet I’ve also been able to discover new meaning and new levels of peace, joy, and connection. This holiday season I have felt deeply connected to the human race as a whole as I’ve learned about the older-than-christianity tradition of celebrating the winter solstice and have felt like I am one small part of this great big human family.
May this holiday season find you and your family healthy, happy, and whole. May you find hope to overcome fear. May you approach others with love and compassion, not judgment. May you find within yourself the resiliency and adaptability needed to survive in this unpredictable, chaotic world of ours. May you approach the world humbly, with open arms and a loose grip, to reduce the inevitable suffering that is a natural part of life.