2020 . . . So Far

All great changes are preceded by chaos.

~Deepak Chopra

You may have seen that meme that was going around social media a week or two ago: “Dear 2020, none of this sh*t was on my vision board.” Well, life so far in 2020 has presented a number of unforeseen challenges, any one of which would have been sufficient to disrupt my family’s normal life and create angst and uncertainty in our minds. To wit:

The Challenges

  1. In late November, Shonnie was diagnosed with breast cancer, and for a few weeks we sometimes found ourselves anxiously wondering what this meant for our little family. Then, on January 13, she underwent surgery to remove the tumors.
  2. In mid-January, the three of us became ill with symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus—fever, sore throat, coughing, chest congestion, fatigue. Shonnie and Gracelyn came through it pretty quickly. However, my illness morphed into pneumonia with a side order of sinusitis and shingles, and I was flat on my back for a couple of days, remaining in a weakened condition for a couple of weeks.
  3. On March 11, our faith community, Jubilee! Community found itself in turmoil. Our founder and minister Howard Hanger had retired in August after holding that post for thirty years. And filling the shoes of this unique theologian, jester, musician, and entertainer would prove to be challenging for anyone who followed him. And so it was. After hiring Amy Steinberg upon Howard’s departure, the Jubilee Board had reason to dismiss her six months later, much to the dismay of a number of Jubilants who’d resonated with Amy’s performances.
  4. Then, of course, came the worldwide pandemic. In late 2019, an obscure, newly discovered virus known as the coronavirus, or more accurately, COVID-19, began making its way around the globe, infecting untold numbers of people, sickening millions, and killing more than one-hundred thousand so far. It was not initially clear how to respond to the crisis, and fear ran rampant. The chaos created by the pandemic also severely impacted commerce and industry in this nation and others, shuttering businesses, throwing millions out of work, and forcing others to work from home.

Responses to the challenges

  1. Resilient, healthy, and optimistic, Shonnie came through her surgery with flying colors and is now cancer-free with no need for chemotherapy or radiation. Needless to say, we were all extremely relieved at this outcome. Shonnie has now fully recovered, swimming and cycling at the Y before it closed, now running and doing yoga in an online class.
  2. I have completely recuperated from my illnesses and have begun hiking, running, and biking. Alas, no handball due to the Y closure.
  3. Jubilee! is taking steps to heal the divisions that have taken place since Howard’s departure, giving Jubilants the opportunity to share their thoughts and emotions whatever they might be. Sunday celebrations are now taking place via Zoom, with guest ministers, speakers from around the nation, and some of our favorite musicians. Somewhere down the road, we’ll turn our attention to a renewed vision for our community.
  4. Our family is self-isolating and social distancing, spending a lot of time together cooking, listening to audiobooks, reading, watching videos (including all the Harry Potter movies), playing games, homeschooling, having dance parties, gardening, hanging out with the cats, and walking around the neighborhood, often chatting with neighbors (maintaining a six-foot distance, of course). We three have definitely become more deeply connected as a result all this togetherness.

Gifts and opportunities resulting from the challenges

  1. Our communities—Evergreen Community Charter School parents
  2. and teachers, Jubilee Community members, our Hibriten Drive neighbors, Grandmas Deb and Jeri, other relatives, long-time friends—responded to news of Shonnie’s cancer diagnosis in an extraordinarily compassionate, openhearted, and generous manner. Cards, emails, Facebook comments, texts, phone calls, flowers, childcare, and several weeks’ worth of meals made clear the power of community and how we are surrounded and upheld by love and kindness.
  3. I have begun some new practices to support my health and emotional well-being—intermittent fasting, that is stop eating at 8:00 p.m. and refrain from eating again until 12:00 noon the next day; and during my daily meditation, a breathing technique called brahmari in which one inhales through the nose and hums while exhaling through the nose. I’ve also reduced my screen time, especially at bedtime.
  4. I have reengaged with my faith community, where Shonnie and I have participated for more than two decades. I have volunteered to become a member of the Jubilee! Board and, in the meantime, I am assisting with the community’s social media. In addition, Shonnie and I have begun regularly participating in the online Sunday celebrations, and we continue our monthly financial pledge.
  5. After my initial shock subsided, I began to consider the pandemic as an opportunity to recognize my mortality and to reconnect with a deeper understanding of what’s truly important to me. How will I be with those I hold dearest, with all the people of the world, with all living things? What actions will I take to create the world I wish to see—one of greater compassion, justice, and sustainability? How will I support myself and do more of what makes my heart sing—running and hiking in the nearby mountains (once the stay-at-home order is lifted), writing from the depths of who I am, engaging deeply with Shonnie, Gracelyn, and other loved ones?

* * *

There are those who worry that the current chaos is ripe for an authoritarian takeover in this nation, a fait accompli in Hungary. However, I hold the vision that this global wakeup call is providing a respite for introspection, allowing each of us to discern what is truly important in our lives—what we want to maintain, what we want to surrender, what else we want to incorporate. Such an awakening runs counter to the desires of those who have the greatest stake in things as they were—political powerbrokers, captains of industry, Wall Street financiers, mainstream and social media moguls, among others. Once the stay-at-home orders have been lifted, or perhaps even before, these forces will do everything in their power to lull us back to sleep, to convince us that our concern for our neighbors, our awareness that we’re more than merely consumers, our recognition that leadership in our nation is sorely lacking, were only aberrations.

There is certainly a part of me that longs for some sense of normalcy, a return to the status quo ante. But life is presenting us an opportunity for a reset, a new normal. On offer is a realization that each of us has the power create a way of being more in harmony with our authentic wants and needs, an awareness that there is much more that connects us than divides us, and an acknowledgment your fate is directly linked to mine. If enough of us respond affirmatively to this admonition, then all the chaos, all the suffering, all the economic hardship will have been worth it.

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