I climbed into bed the other night, snuggled up close to my husband, and asked him, how much longer do you think this is going to last? It’s not like I really expected him to have an answer or to know what particular “this” to which I was referring. What startled me, in retrospect, is that even with this non-sequitur question, he knew. It’s because we all know. We are all in some fashion walking around every day, in our own way, asking for mercy, asking for this to end. And by this, I mean living in a pandemic.
I heard myself say to a friend over the weekend, I am not sure how to live my life with this level of uncertainty and chaos. Isn’t the paradox of life oddly reassuring and anger-inducing at the same time? When life is humdrum and constant and seemingly an unending stream of the same kind of day, all we do is whine that our lives are boring. We say we long for spontaneity and to be surprised. Clearly, many of us, such as myself are big, fat liars!!
The more I turned all of this in my head one afternoon, I came to the conclusion that to some degree this is part of being alive, managing uncertainty, managing our relationship to it.
But then something else arrived, the great friend that we all need and love: perspective. Looking back I think the catalyst was a post by Kara Goucher, a former Olympic marathoner, sharing how being a color commentator in Tokyo allowed her to look back at her past performances in a new, more positive light. Surprisingly to me, she said that prior to these past couple of weeks she had harbored sadness about her Olympic races, feeling like she had let people down.
There was something, I think, about reading this that allowed my mind to conveniently thread together these events I am about to share into what hopefully will end in a tidy necklace of ideas that is recognizable as something useful.
This sequence of events banged together on the same line of thought in my mind. It was that I actually am seeing people that I know personally and some that I just know as a fan doing some amazing things even in the midst of this challenging and difficult time. They are managing the uncertainty.
The Olympics just ended and honestly, I saw some of the best in sportsmanship and humanity (we also saw some of the worst but… alas). I watched Molly Seidel roar back to win a bronze medal in the marathon when merely a few years before she was dealing with acute mental health challenges. I watched Simone Biles make quite possibly the bravest and most courageous decision to protect herself: physically and mentally. While that had to be emotionally charged and so full of conflict she showed up for her teammates and modeled what it is to be a leader.
I walked with a friend at the park the other day and listened to her tell me how she’s navigating life since the loss of her mother. She is traveling the well-worn roads of grief with courage and optimism. She isn’t hiding from the pain, she is simply opening her arms wider to also take in the joy, the gratitude, and other good things that are still present in her life.
I watched another friend, courtesy of the genius that is Zoom, stand up in front of a room full of people and speak the full truth of who she is with pride, dignity, and integrity and be met with the raucous sound of applause that was likely only rivaled by the pounding of her own heart.
And just a few minutes before sitting down to write this I saw that Scott Jurek, a highly respected and successful ultrarunner, was back out on the Appalachian Trail attempting to set a new FKT (fastest known time). What makes this extraordinary is that he has already done it before. His record didn’t stand for very long but that’s hardly the point of attempting such a feat. He is 47 now and while many might say that his best races are behind him, he’s out there on the trail seeing whether he can catch lightning for a second time. It takes courage to step out where others can see you. It takes arguably even more courage to step out where you can see yourself.
We say we want normal. We say we are tired of the chaos. We are not lying. We want back the carefree ignorance we once had before living in and through a pandemic. We want to be able to trust the little things that we never even considered not trusting before, the air between us.
But with that comfort comes complacency. With that deep lulling sense that we have the time comes procrastination. I am not recommending or suggesting that pandemics are good for us. The harsh light that this time shines, however, keeps us awake to the reality that even this period of time is for us. Even in what has likely been the hardest year plus for most of us we can still grasp hope; we can still grow. We can, in fact, still live.
Growth is and forever will be messy. Let’s keep it straight. Every single scenario I mentioned above, if shown on a highlight reel, would leave out the tears, the paralyzing self-doubt, the incessant inner chatter, insomnia, and racing heart because we don’t like to look at those parts. It’s also why we move away from the pain of growth. We see it in the movies and the slog lasts 3 minutes in a fancy montage that allows us to fast forward to the outcome without any of the fuss of heart-squeezing defeat, the uncertainty of not knowing how this will go; or the bottom that falls out in your stomach when putting it all on the line without guarantee. This is the life we have even if we don’t recall signing up for it. This is what we have.
My wise friend, Dr. Sheryl Richard, has coined (and trademarked) the phrase Magnificent Messmaker. One of her soul missions is to remind us that we are all magnificent and we will make messes. It’s inherent in the process. She invites us to keep moving even when we make a mess because we will. Clean it up as best you are able and move on. But imagining that a full life can or will come without a mess is — well — messed up.
It’s easy to get the impression that somehow this expanse of time is not part of our life, that we are somehow on interminable pause or hold. But that’s not the case. Time waits for no woman (or man), it passes as it was intended. This period likely will never be reflected on as our favorite in life but I also don’t want it to be categorized as wasted, or unused.
People are out there still living life to the best of their ability right now. They are still reaching, stretching, and growing. I want to be one of those too, even when it hurts, even when it’s messy. Surely magnificent is not far beyond.
Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G