The kind promise that I am considering this month is “I will be tender with weaknesses.”
What weakness shall we consider in this time of pandemic?
I see a weakness creeping up on all people right now. There is the tendency to want to go back to normal, even though the viral threat is not over. To be tender in the face of the sweetness means not judging those protesters gather outside governor’s mansion to pressure officials to open up workplaces. It means recognizing those inpatient instincts in myself and breathing calm into them.
There is also the related weakness of losing heart, believing that “I (or we) can’t do this… Can’t take it any longer.” If I turn away from selfish pursuits and realize that my Patience may be saving other people, that helps me stay strong.
Hank Green posted a video in which he compared the process that one goes through making peace with the idea of living with chronic illness with what we are all going through in the midst of pandemic. He called it “sudden obliteration of expectations.” Just as, facing chronic illness, we can’t expect to go back to our earlier life as “a well person,” we can’t – as a world – expect things to return to normal. That’s a hard truth for all of us. Perhaps those of us who live with chronic illness are at an advantage. We have some experience with changed worlds. (Perhaps I am just hoping that’s true.)
Here is my three-step process of tenderness:
First, acknowledge the emotions that are welling up in the situation. These might include fear, anger, impatience, and so on. Feel them in your body. Sometimes it helps to sort out labels for them. Don’t rush this. It takes courage and (ironically) patience.
Next, take responsibility for those emotions. They are yours. Like all emotions, they are part of a chemical soup that arises and falls. They don’t necessarily mean anything. They don’t require anything to change. They are not anybody’s fault (including yours). Let them be, but don’t let them come out sideways into anger at somebody else or irritability toward the world in general.
Finally, treat yourself and everybody around you with compassion. Be kind. Pretend you are your own best friend. What do you need right now? Perhaps it’s a hug, a quiet conversation, time to write in your journal, or a nap. Decide and give it to yourself.
What’s not usually helpful is to deny or ignore the feelings. To slap yourself upside the head (metaphorically) and say, “don’t be such a sissy; get on with it!” None of that, please. Treat yourself gently. These are difficult times.
It’s no wonder that in this world of fear and uncertainty, we are awash in emotions that may feel like weakness. The situation can be an invitation to practice compassion and get practice in creating an atmosphere of gentleness and compassion.