Like everyone we know, we at RCWMS are grappling with uncertain, anxious times with the coronavirus now marching around the globe. For the month of March we are cancelling some of our workshops, including the writing workshop this weekend.
When my mind becomes a tempest I often turn to a favorite practice – quietly, alphabetically, naming people dear to me: Annie – compassionate listener; Brenda – camp counselor companion; Courtney – artistic true heart; Dinnie – backpacking soulmate….
There is a limitless amount of practical advice roaming the internet: Wash your hands; practice social distancing; and manage your media intake. In our office, we certainly acknowledge our privilege– that we can pivot and work from home without fear of income interruption. Yet how do we work with our own uncertainty and fear around what might happen? How do we care for ourselves and each other, especially those most vulnerable?
I plan to start from love. As Persian scholar and Duke professor Omid Safi says, “We may be avoiding physical contact, but your soul still needs to be touched. Reach out to people you love, and people who love you. Check in. Listen.” Safi’s “How Is Your Heart” gives a richer look at meaningful check-ins with your people.
We are all caregivers. These guidelines for pastoral care from Christian Century have broad application for all of us, and include gems as simple as “be a non-anxious presence: showing up calm, emotionally present, and free from anxiety engenders trust and provides the right kind of care in any crisis, from papercut to pandemic. For caregivers to show up non-anxiously means managing our own feelings, so we neither try to flee the situation nor flood it with our own emotions or anxieties. People will borrow our calm and compassion to assist them in reducing their own anxieties.”
Kristen Bradley-Bull has offered a list of ways to put care for ourselves and others into action. Some of her tips include:
- NEIGHBORS: Checking in with them now-ish so we are ready to be in touch with one another if folks need anything. (And, of course, the hope is there is no need!) Hopefully, we’ll all see a good bit more of one another as we are taking walks, being in our yards, etc.
- SEED GROWING: Miraculous and affirming.
- PHONE: Opportune time to catch up with friends near and far who may be less overbooked (if they don’t have young children, at least).
- GARDEN: Great time to mulch! Great time to start weeding and raking. If I’m going to do the mulching, I should probably just get it now and have it at the ready. Tend to the nature that is nearby.
- DONATIONS: Terrific opportunity to think about at least 1 place to make a donation to that is more front-line. A free clinic, a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, an HIV/AIDS organization.
- INGREDIENTS: Ponder stuff I’ve been wanting to cook/learn to cook that I might finally try.
- THANK YOU NOTES: I might even write some thank you notes. Goodness knows there’s a whole pile of all y’all who should receive one from me.
- NATURE: Get outdoors (a walk around the block/down the road, a park, a forest, etc.). Nature offers so many opportunities to experience beauty, to witness resiliency and the cycle of life, to be in my body, to remember-in to what’s important, to expand, to exhale.
To this list I would add a reminder to laugh. With her compromised lungs and heart, my own mother is on the list of the most vulnerable. I’m calling her more often, and reminding her of things that make us both giggle.
Duke theology professor and incurable optimist Kate Bowler mentions her own experience as a guide: “For a long stretch, I was immuno-compromised and I needed the healthy to be on my team. To wash their hands. To not hug me if they had even a sniffle. But mostly just to love me wholeheartedly. Let love lead the way. The weak are not to be feared, but to be sheltered.”
I rarely get to the letter Z in my practice of naming dear ones. I’m usually too full-up with gratitude earlier in the alphabet and find the tempest has blown through. But today I’ll jump ahead. Zia – inspiring, fiercely-devoted ally.
This will pass. Let’s forge through together.