Sören Kierkegaard wrote about miracles as signs, personal and meaningful guideposts to light our way and reinforce our belief that God or the universe has our back. Maybe it's a sign you are on the right path, be it career or relationship, like when a happy coincidence confirms a choice you've made. Or, maybe it's a sign that a loved one who has passed away has found their way to a better place - like the dream shared with me about a beloved grandfather and the unconditional love he somehow conveyed. Sometimes we rely on a sign, desperately hoping it means everything will be okay, like the rainbow that graced the sky over Manhattan as my daughter and son-in-law drove to the hospital to deliver her second baby.
When they found out they were having a boy, they decided to name him Finnian and call him Finn. Being the musical junkie that I am, I told them about the 1968 movie Finian's Rainbow and for the months leading up to his birth, frequently talked about it. When they saw the rainbow the evening before Finn made his entrance into the world, it was especially unusual since rainbow sightings in Manhattan are rare, tall buildings and distractions being what they are, and this rainbow seemed to end right at the hospital front doors. We all saw it as an auspicious sign that all would be well.
And, then it wasn't. Four days after baby Finn was born, a fateful nudge prompted them in the middle of the night, exhausted though they were, to get Finn up only a half hour after putting him down. They were unable to wake him. By the time they got Finn to an ER, he was turning blue and had a temperature in the low 90's. He had to be ventilated and was diagnosed with sepsis, a life-threatening infection that in baby Finn's case had caused one of his lungs to fill with fluid. As the initial days passed and Finn was unable to breathe on his own, we said our prayers, and asked others to pray as well, clinging to the picture of that beautiful rainbow, and hoping it was a message that somehow all would still be well.
Finn began to slowly get better, all the tubes were eventually removed, and one early evening on the day he finally left the ICU, a thunderstorm rolled through. My daughter looked out baby Finn's hospital window and there over the East River was another rainbow, the bright colors more luminous than ever. A nurse came in, saw the rainbow and commented that in all the years she'd worked there, she had never seen one. To us, it was more than a colorful archway; it was a bridge to heaven that sustained us as Finn had a few setbacks along the way.
Baby Finn is now home and doing fine and he even smiled right on cue as he turned six weeks old. And though Finnian's rainbows have long faded from the sky, they left an indelible mark on all of us that will never be forgotten. (Katie)
"Zoom: to move or travel very quickly; or in a camera to change smoothly from a long shot to a close up or vice versa." (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Remember when things were that simple or when "zoom" was a sound you made when playing with a child racing cars on the floor around you? How things have changed! Now, we Zoom meetings for work, we Zoom key events like baby showers, birthday parties, or a shared glass of wine. And with the capabilities of Zoom's first cousin live streaming, we can even be present at weddings and funerals. As amazing as this technology is, many of us are getting a little Zoomed-out.
I laughed when I first began thinking about this definition of zoom, because pre-covid, I generally zoomed my way through life. Checking off this box, making time for that meeting, writing or paying bills into the wee hours of the night or morning, not to mention, flying thousands of miles each year - there was lots of zooming going on. In fact, my friends actually wrote a poem for my 50th birthday comparing me to Thing 1 and Thing 2 of Dr. Seuss fame, given all the hats I wore and "the places I would go and the people I would see." I was happy, albeit sometimes harried, in my frenetic pace. The admonition to "Be Present" was a goal not easily accomplished as there was too much to do and never enough time to do it.
Covid has changed that. With air travel curtailed and bans on groups of people socializing in person, we each have developed a new normal. Being Present comes much more easily. The demands on time and commitments still exist and some have gotten even more complicated with child care amid work responsibilities. Still, there is a new recognition that time spent with friends and family is a gift to be savored. Occasions and virtues we once took for granted have increased in value. We have a renewed sense of the importance of trust; no longer is it an esoteric goal, but a down-to-earth necessity. With covid we have to trust each other in the same way that we must be trustworthy in order to protect one another to stay safe and healthy. We have to appreciate those in our 'pod,' as we learn to celebrate their strengths and accept their foibles, as they must do with our own. Most importantly, we have to seek out new ways to connect and stay engaged, because connection drives our humanity.
This message hit home this month with the wedding of our daughter. While the formal wedding planning began over a year ago, in reality she had been planning it since she was 4. Now it was real - there was an actual groom involved! Gowns for bride and bridesmaids, menus, invitations - all were in order, May 30th was to be the happy day, but that date came and went like so many other celebrations put on hold by the pandemic. But as Sheryl Sandberg poignantly shared, "When Option A isn't available, kick the s*** out of Option B." So, instead of the 'cast of thousands' they had envisioned, the happy couple were married at the church they had selected with an audience of 14 immediate family members. Rather than feeling a sense of loss over all the festivities that had been planned, those of us present got to slow down, spend more time with each other, revel in the company of family, and do one thing really well. In the end, they knew, "The day was perfect." As bride and groom celebrated the importance of their commitment, the love they share was transmitted through the air waves connecting them to the live stream attendees across the country.
If one of the lessons gained from this painful time is our increased ability to be flexible, and to find and celebrate love wherever and however we can, then we must also accept the blessings, the little miracles, that surround us wherever and whenever we can find them. (Joan)
One of the stranger concepts, now defunct, in Catholic theology is the idea of limbo, a place somewhere between heaven and hell where unbaptized babies, among others, went after they died. They were supposedly stuck there for all eternity, the unfairness of which caused quite an uproar when I was in second grade. “But, what if...” our little eight-year-old hands went up with all sorts of gyrations and circumstances for how and why the unbaptized babies should go to heaven anyway. This was to the consternation of our teacher, a Dominican nun, who didn’t have very good answers and even though we were young, we were not much fooled. Limbo was and is unsettling.
In our modern vernacular, limbo connotes uncertainty and waiting, the uncomfortable place we find ourselves in today. It is also a time of reckoning, with an urgent spotlight on racism in this country that has brought many of us to task, shaken us out of our complacency, and our smug assessment of who we think we really are. As we wait for a cure or a vaccine for Covid-19, we long for the peace and justice that should have come long ago. We wait and we hope, somewhere between heaven and hell. Our country seems to be hanging in the balance, with many of us feeling like we have too much time on our hands and yet no time to lose.
Heaven is a place we might imagine differently through the prism of the pandemic. The small, ordinary daily occurrences we may have taken for granted: a walk in the park with a friend, freedom to celebrate life’s milestones, take a vacation anywhere in the world, or hold a new grandchild. Hell is also a place we can imagine differently, especially if we close our eyes and set the timer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
You might say, we could use a few miracles right about now. Personally, I believe God, by whatever name, has given us the gifts of goodness and compassion, fairness and faith, and love, above all, to harness the winds of change and fate in the best ways we know how, and that hope is more than a pipe dream. That perhaps, for all of us, there is an escape from limbo after all. (Katie)
Every morning as I wake I take inventory. First things first, so I make sure my fingers and toes still wiggle and then I say a quick prayer of gratefulness that I am fortunate to be able to rise and face another day. Like many mothers, I do a mental check in on my three children and their loved ones spread across the country. One on the front lines of COVID working as an emergency physician in Chicago, another ensconced in mid-town Manhattan following governmental orders not to leave, and one in CA able to enjoy the fresh air and arrival of a new puppy. I think of my mother fortunately still at home and the caregivers who attend her. And, I think of my socially active mother-in-law whose world has contracted to her neighborhood walks. I count my blessings that they are all well.
This time of the coronavirus is a defining moment in our lives as each of us is reduced to our lowest common denominator. How we procure food, paper products, and the staples of our livelihood. How we stay sane, between homeschooling, cooking, if we are lucky - working from home, if we are not, venturing out and trusting that others have our backs. None of us can escape the pandemic. What we can do is appreciate the small things we can still enjoy. I hope my daily walk is as helpful to me as it is to those I pray for along the way. Right now the problems in the world seem so overwhelming it is hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, I wonder if it really matters. But it does. Giving in to this devastating tragedy will only stop us in our tracks, it won’t make it disappear.
When thinking about tragedy I also think about resilience and how closely the two are tied together. Resilience is personal to each of us. For me, Paolo Coelho’s message of falling down seven times and getting up eight is a motto to live by (I just wish I didn’t take it so literally!). We are weighed down by events we have no control over, but that doesn’t mean we have to cede all control and be overpowered by them. In the some of the darkest days the world has ever known, even Anne Frank had her diary.
So how do we find this resilience, this ability to recover from difficulty? There are a multitude of techniques (shown in italics) that can help us build resilience of our own. One is to allow ourselves to accept our own feelings and try not to fear them. I strive to remember this as I think about my son in his PPE, funny to see him on Face-time without his usual millennial scruffy beard, now gone to facilitate a tighter fit of the mask he wears for hours on end. Letting go of judgment and blame is another recommended technique. With my years spent in the medical field it is hard not to become frustrated with our shortcomings from PPE scarcity to a lack of coordinated response. And yet, there is hope. Treatments, vaccines and new tests are all being developed at warp speed around the globe with an unprecedented level of cooperation and sharing. Another recommendation is to nurture a sense of humor. From late night TV to home videos, comic graphics, and soundbites, we now have permission to open these messages and take time to smile. Humor touches our core, feeds our soul, and keeps us human.
While Zoom and other web based apps facilitate working from home, they also allow us to reach out to others for sharing and support, which is another resilience technique. Many of us are getting creative in our online family time, playing games, doing puzzles, or in my family scheduling a virtual coast-to-coast wine tasting. Finding meaning in our personal challenges can be looking for the silver lining when it is not intuitively obvious. I see this resilience in my daughter as her wedding date approaches and will pass without the festivities she worked so hard to plan. But love is far more than a celebration and connecting to something greater helps to uncover the strength within us. Helping others whether through a donation, a kind word or deed, or volunteering to take over a task for someone in need are examples of seizing control over what we can.
One of my favorite quotes that Katie has shared with me over the years is from Henry Ford. “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” To be resilient we must believe in ourselves and in our ability to cope…not every minute, or even every hour, but in the end. It helps to think of other issues we have overcome. When I was first injured back in early February, thinking the pain would never end, the words of a friend that I was a great “heal-er” helped get me over the hump of self-doubt. Since then, and especially now, a gratitude journal or even taking just a few moments to think about what we are thankful for is helpful to identify our own good news (check out SGN with John Krasinski) and not be overcome by the bad news that surrounds us.
This time out forced upon the world has held many of us hostage, and its effects will be felt for years to come. Like everyone else, I need to be strong, help where I can, and find hope.
Most of us know the Serenity Prayer, perpetually popular after being adopted by AA some 75 years ago. First penned one New England summer in the middle years of WWII by Reinhold Neibuhr, his words express both helplessness at the world's predicament, and hopefulness at the same time. He had faith in our ability to find our way "home" in spite of what we are up against. Neibuhr was a close friend of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Tillich, all three Christian theologians and Germans, fiercely opposed to Nazism from the beginning, each with different answers to the inherent question of how do we know what we can change or control that the original prayer contemplates:
God give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Coronavirus has given all of us the experience of the sometimes hard reality of having to accept feeling out of control. Confronting isolation, scavenging for groceries and necessities, scrambling to find the supplies to make our own masks are experiences not from a world most of us recognize. Worries compound about loved ones and friends on the front lines, or whose jobs have been lost. Disappointments pile up as weddings and graduations are cancelled, places of worship are shuttered, and even a walk in the park, especially on a beautiful spring day, becomes hazardous to your health. My own situation includes a growing desperation to get home to NYC after being waylaid in Denver for a medical emergency.
Aside from the fact that none of us is ever really in control, we have the distinct advantage right now to find the courage to focus on what we do have, not what we don't, to see that glass as half full, to take advantage of extra time, and unique ways to connect. To survive well, we need to take a deep breath each morning, find more resilience than we thought we had, and muster up some initiative to be worthy of living the gift of today. Maybe we can even get reacquainted with ourselves and what makes our own heart beat, allowing us to reset the rhythm of our lives going forward. The answer to what we can control, how we face adversity, and what we are able to change is different for each of us.
Having safely emigrated to the U.S., lives at risk as members of the resistance, Paul Tillich tried to affect change from afar in 112 secret addresses to Germans over the course of the war, broadcast through Voice of America. Dietrich Bonhoeffer felt he had to go back to Germany and continue his resistance from there. He was executed in April, 1945 for his role in an assassination attempt on Hitler. With the survival of civilization at stake, their stories should give us both perspective and inspiration. We still have so many freedoms to create, to appreciate, to be. Practicing serenity, discovering courage, cultivating a bit of wisdom along the way, I've found it's one way to find your home away from home.