pandemic days

I’m having a Pandemic Day today.

I started identifying Pandemic Days shortly after… wait for it… the pandemic started.

I know it sounds obvious, but as we adjusted to a totally new way of being in the world and on the internet, I found that there were some days that I would wake up feeling really heavy. On those days the tears fell easy and often, and while I tried to restart the day a few different times, the heaviness just stayed with me. Somewhere along the way I started to notice the pattern, and when I’d wake up feeling that way I tagged them as “Pandemic Days”.

Now that the months are ticking by those days are fewer and farther in between, but that only means they surprise me more when they come along. Just when I think I’m starting to get the swing of this: that masks aren’t all that bad, that things are starting to feel normal again, that we’re all going to be fine…it hits me. I find myself wanting to crawl back into bed as soon as I’m out of it. On Pandemic Days I want to be like this guy:

(if you haven’t checked out the Amazon reviews for the Ostrich Pillow I recommend it)

Please give me something to help escape these days.

I’ve come to realize that what’s really going on during Pandemic Days is that I’m grieving. Still. I’d like to pretend that we did all the grieving when this thing started and it should be over now, but as this drags on there are new things to grieve and the old grief hasn’t been resolved. Sure, we’re adjusting. But there’s no forgetting all the things we are missing.

I’m not sure what caused my pandemic day today, but I think it has something to do with my son starting kindergarten. He’s going in person, and he loves it. Seriously, no complaints. But during recess his class goes outside and they play on the basketball court. A fabulous playground stretches out in front of them, but they can’t play on it. It’s too hard to sanitize. So instead they are relegated to the basketball court, where my son tells me they play Red Light, Green Light. He is delighted to have a classmate who can run as fast as he can. And I am devastated that he can’t play freely because of a virus.

I could try to talk myself out of this grief. I could ask Sam 100 times if he’s really happy at school, though I can tell you from experience he stops answering after the third ask. I could tell myself about all the other things that could be happening to me that could be SO much worse. I can remember that I have my health, my family, my job.

But the thing is that you can’t lecture yourself out of grief. And as I’ve mentioned before, the experts tell us that comparative suffering doesn’t build empathy. So there is no point in dismissing your own grief because it’s ‘not as bad’ as someone else’s. Feeling our grief helps us identify with other people in their grief.

So instead of trying to shake it off, I try to name it as soon as I realize it (usually right about after my first cup of coffee fails to improve my mood.) My family and friends know the deal, and we’ve all been able to name it when we find ourselves in a Pandemic Day. Having a shared language for these days helps us to go easy on one another, and reminds me to go easy on myself.

I hope your Pandemic Days are few and far between. And I hope that when you have them, you can allow them, hard as they may be. We are all going through a hard thing right now, and I don’t think we have to muscle through and be tough. I think we can feel the sadness and try to trust that tomorrow we’ll wake up to a new day: full of empathy and understanding for others.

And in the meantime: Ostrich Pillow.

Another pandemic survival tool: Schitt’s Creek.

Words of Affirmation

In 1992 Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages. In it, he offers the premise that each of us have five different ways of expressing love, and the key to a successful relationship is understanding the love language your parter speaks, and making sure to speak to them with that language. (I have some issues with the book, but we can leave that for another time. I get where he’s coming from.)

The five languages he outlines are as follows:

  • Physical Touch
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Gifts
  • Words of Affirmation

This book is meant to be about romantic love, but he’s written follow up books about how to understand these languages in all our relationships. I find it helpful with all the love.

This past Sunday I was at another outdoor church service at ECC with a congregation who was gathering to use our space for worship. I watched as they saw one another for the first time in six months. I’ve gotten used to the routine by now – and I’ve experienced it myself. The awkward approach. The attempt to see beyond the mask at the person you miss behind it. The slumped shoulders as both parities bemoan not being able to hug. It is so good to see each other, and it is so hard to not be able to express our love for one another in all the ways we used to.

As I was actively refraining from hugging an old friend myself, I commented that one of the things that makes this pandemic so dang hard is that we have been robbed of a couple of our regular love languages.

I meant it as a joke, but it got me thinking. One thing this pandemic cannot take away from us is our love for one another (not saying that love hasn’t been tested at moments, but you know what I mean). But it has been difficult to lose some of the ways we express that love for one another. Physical touch has been – in large part – taken off the table, at least in the short term. And quality time (my personal love language) is threatened. We are encouraged to stay outside, keep it short, and move along.

I’ve been busy lamenting these losses but on Sunday I realized that it was better to acknowledge them so we can balance the scales. We can’t hug, and that’s lousy. So it might be time to ramp up the words of affirmation. Or the acts of service. Or the gifts.

Earlier in this pandemic – after I had talked about one how one of my favorite prayers is “what’s next” I received a handmade bracelet in the mail from one of my campers and her mom.

It was such an incredible expression of love, and it brought a smile to my lips at a time I was struggling for the smiles.

On another night while Jonathan and I were putting the kids to bed my mom cooked us a wonderful steak dinner. We sat around a table with a meal I had not had to prepare. That was an act of service that filled my cup right up.

And, in the absence of hugs, I find the words “I love you” leaving my mouth more than they used to. As I looked around at the people at camp Sunday I realized that this love language in particular is one I can ramp up while we keep our social distance.

Words of affirmation is my hardest language. I can write them, but speaking my feelings out loud does not come easy to me. I get in my head a little and the words sputter on their way out.

We haven’t lost words though, my friends. In fact, we have so many words that sometimes I think we might be causing harm the way we are using them against one another. But we can use our words for love, and in so doing can help lessen the load that the people around us are carrying.

Use the words for good. Even if you – like me – think they sound corny.

I love you.

I’m inspired by you.

I’m proud of you.

I’m so happy that you are in my life.

I see how hard you are working.

I value you.

Start with your friends and family until you’re feeling more comfortable, and then be brave. Use words of affirmation with your co-workers, your teachers, the people working at the grocery store, the delivery guy. They might look at you weird, but I bet those words will matter.

This pandemic continues to be hard. In fact, I think it might be getting harder. I’m not “getting used to” this way of life, and the waves of grief continue to roll in.

We need one another. We need to lift one another up. We need to share and receive love in every possible way we can.

I can’t wait to give all my people a big old awkwardly-long hard hug when we are able, but in the meantime get ready for me to tell you about how much I love you. That will be awkward too, but I don’t care.

Love is the energy.