Managing Our Own Fears

When it comes to balancing staying informed with managing my anxiety about coronavirus, I’m trying to take advice from President Obama — don’t get too high, don’t get too low. When I read those exciting articles about how a vaccine or a cure is imminent, I mine them for the facts, but then move on. I don’t get too enthused. And when I read those articles touting the fear that we’ll never have a vaccine, never have a cure, again – I search for the facts, not conjecture, and move on.

For myself, I believe that there is (at this time) sufficient data to be cautiously optimistic that by the end of next summer, we will have a widely-distributed vaccine and can get back to “normal.” And so, I am operating on that assumption. To have a hoped-for date settles my monkey mind so that I can focus on the things that I can affect. “Okay, then. Next September, in 2021, we can have church in-person, my child can go back to school, and we can begin creating our post-pandemic world.” I let out the deep breath that I’ve unconsciously been holding. One year – it won’t be easy, but I can do this.

Having a date in mind — September 2021 — makes it a little easier for me to hold to safe practices, and not be tempted to take unnecessary risks. I even allow myself a little time, now and again, to fantasize about those future, better days.

In our Zoom gatherings, many members have spoken about the disconnect they feel right now, as the numbers of coronavirus shoot high, while many people go about their days, not physical distancing, no masks, as if nothing is wrong.

It’s a hard/weird/disorienting thing, isn’t it? We are putting so much effort into avoiding something (getting infected). So much work for something to NOT happen. And if we do it right, there’s no notification, no gold star … simply the absence of being sick. Hey, maybe we need to make a ritual out of that? Get up in the morning, put your finger in an oximeter, then announce on social media “99% oxygen! Whoo-hoo!”

To accept that we’ll be living in this reality until Sept 2021 means that I can squarely face how things will be changed this next year. I can turn to the strategies that work for me. You have your own strategies that work for you – turn to those, at least the healthy ones.

I am a planner by nature, and putting my energies into that is a good use of my time. As I think of things that must be different this year, I allow myself to grieve when my heart sinks, thinking of holidays, the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, little traditions and habits. And then I begin thinking through alternate plans. (I’m already thinking about our Christmas Eve service.)

Warning: not everyone will be in the same place as you. I think this is a message we need to keep reminding ourselves. Emotionally, we are in very different places. We can’t assume that what gives us relief will apply to everyone. This weekend, I texted my best friend, who I do a tamale-making party with every year. I had already processed my disappointment about that, and so I could cheerfully suggest that she and I plan an online Tamalada, and invite people to prepare to join us, making tamales in their own homes.

She hurled a few invectives at me.

Oops.

(Figure out what gives you moments of peace right now. Accept that others will find it in different ways.)

In that same interview with President Obama, he talks about the 24 hour news cycle, and some of the crises his administration went through – the barrage of bad news. He says that their job was to stay focused on “what can we get done, every single day, to advance the vision and the values” that people elected him for.

We have a vision for creating Beloved Community, right in our little corner of the world. We have religious values about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and the responsibilities that come with being part of an interdependent web of existence. For me, that’s where I’m choosing to put my focus. Not on my fears, but on our vision and values.