Sunday, April 19, 2020

Learning to Let it Be

Magnolia Blooms
Stay the Course

Today is our 33rd day of staying home, sheltering in place. It's been almost five weeks.


Societal Lessons


This pandemic has had some lessons to teach us. At the the broader societal level, we have been learning that:
  • To have a good life, our close relationships and other human connections matter most of all -- more than engaging work, personal accomplishments, material acquisitions, or fun activities. 
  • Essential workers, especially health care workers, have become our everyday heroes. They are ordinary people doing their jobs in extraordinary circumstances. They have reached deep inside and found the courage and faith to keep going, taking care of us all by making sure we have groceries, caring for the elderly and treating the ill, even while risking their own health and lives. When called upon, will each of us find our own inner hero?
  • Leadership really matters. COVID-19 has shown us that the difference between good and poor leadership can be and presently is a matter of life and death. So we need to choose our leaders wisely.
  • We are interconnected, globally. "Globalization" has been a buzz word for decades, but now we are learning what it really means. The disease transmission process demonstrates how people in each city, country, or continent affect each other. If people across the border from you have the coronavirus (or people on the next continent), it is only a matter of time until your city (or continent) has it too. To address it effectively, we have to work together across our communities and worldwide, supporting the "have-nots" as well as the "haves." We can apply this same insight about inter-connectivity to worldwide economics, food-security, and climate change. 

Personal Lessons


Trillium on Today's Hike
The pandemic also has been teaching me some lessons at a personal level. The biggest lesson I have been learning is to "Let it Be."

All my life, I have been achievement-oriented -- a doer. I have approached life at full tilt, a ball of energy. I have no patience whatsoever, and have always felt that I must spend every moment of my life doing something productive. (On the plus side, I'm never bored.)

As you can imagine, I'm not very "zen." My greatest struggle in trying to learn to meditate is to make myself sit still "wasting time" doing "nothing" when I could be doing something productive.

My approach to life made the decision to retire difficult for me. 

I retired in stages. The first part of the process lasted a year or two, and during it I agonized about whether and when to retire. Finally, I decided to step down from my role as an administrator (which was very stressful and causing negative health consequences), but without actually retiring. I planned to transition back to a teaching role after a year of earned sabbatical leave. Halfway through my sabbatical year, I realized I was, in fact, ready to retire. I've now been retired for almost three years.

I have included several links to blog posts I wrote back then tracking my thought process about retiring. I found it very hard to let go of my work. What I did everyday seemed to be core to who I was. When I was no longer working productively, who would I be?

As it turned out, I love being retired. I discovered I was still me, and that my work did not define who I was.

But, I brought my characteristic energy and work ethic to retirement and immediately joined a whole bunch of groups and organizations. Before I knew it, I once again had a calendar full of meetings and other commitments. Yes, the meetings were about things that I like to do -- art, writing, community volunteer work, social gatherings, exercise activities, book club, academic writing projects, and so on. It was nothing like the grueling long hours of work I used to do. But still, I no longer had many unscheduled chunks of time left. I was being productive -- all the time. I was also beating myself up for not doing even more.

Manicotti stuffed with Spinach and Cheese
Homemade Berry Pie
Staying at home because of the pandemic has given me a second chance to retire. Everything disappeared from my calendar. I am finding out what it is like to just be rather than to always do. I haven't had time like this to let it be since I was a child.

I've discovered that I love just puttering in the garden or in the kitchen. It is peaceful to have unscheduled contemplative days. Although I have appreciated zoom conferencing weekly with my yoga class and my blogging buddies, and monthly with my book club and my writers' group, I've resisted adding any more conferences into my days.

It no longer matters if it's Monday or Saturday. I don't have to go anywhere. I can just hang out at home, and go for a walk if the mood strikes. I'm no longer personally responsible for single-handedly solving climate change, or for writing the defining book of the century, and that's okay.
Zoom Session with Blogging Buddies

Let it be

Friday, April 10, 2020

Reasons to Feel Grateful

The Trail Down Notch Hill

Today is Day 25 of our self-isolation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, like so many people around the world, Rob and I have been staying home, not seeing friends or family. Our trips away from home have been limited -- twice to buy groceries, once to get pet food, once to the liquor store, once to the vet, and twice to pick up takeout food. Three times people have dropped something off for us, and twice we've gone out to drop something off for others. We walk on the streets and trails near home, stop and chat with people while physically distancing, and otherwise stay home.


I was on a Zoom conference with some blogging buddies the other day, and when we went around the screen talking about our highs and lows of the week, a number of us said something quite similar. We felt lethargic, glum, blue, flat, anxious, and discouraged. We lacked energy and motivation to accomplish much of anything.

It is understandable that we feel anxious, scared, and unable to focus. Just about everything in our lives has suddenly changed. Even for those of us who haven't been personally touched by the disease (yet), we are affected by the grim death tolls around the world, and are afraid of dying or of loved ones dying.

Yet, even in these difficult times, we have so much to be grateful for.

Capable Leaders


I am so grateful to live here in Canada, where our health experts and politicians have done a very good job of managing the response to the COVID-19 crisis. Our federal, provincial, and municipal politicians have, for the most part, put partisan politics aside. They have worked together to address the pandemic by putting policies and support programs in place and moving resources to wherever they are most needed.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, screenshot from Global News Town Hall

In particular, I'm impressed with Dr. Bonnie Henry, our Provincial Health Officer here in BC. She and the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, provide a daily briefing to British Columbians. They are clear, transparent, and consistent in their communications, and publish the health orders, ongoing statistics, and epidemic planning models on the BC Centre for Disease Control website for all to look at. They devote a significant part of each briefing to taking questions, and they answer the questions honestly and as thoroughly as they can, expressing genuine emotions.

Dr. Henry calls upon all of us to be kind, and to do our part. Although her orders in this emergency are the law and she has the authority to enforce them, she appeals instead to our human decency and our desire to do the right thing to protect our families and communities. And British Columbians are rising to the occasion and following her health orders. Because of it, we are starting to see our epi-curve flatten. Our cumulative number of deaths in BC thus far has been low.

Bonnie Henry is a leader we all can look to with gratitude. Phil Dwyer of Vancouver Island has written a ballad about her that you can listen to by clicking this link: The Ballad of Bonnie Henry. This newspaper article explains how the songwriter wrote the song and had it recorded.

A final point that I'll make about our situation is that our good leadership did not occur by accident. It happened before COVID-19. We voted for decent people who put their civic duty ahead of self-serving aims. As a country, we have invested in universal healthcare, and paid taxes to fund pandemic planning long before this pandemic became a reality. As a country, we have invested in equitable education for all. A populace that has good critical thinking skills is more likely to support and trust their scientists and other experts, and therefore to be well-placed to respond in a community-minded way when a crisis occurs. I am glad I live where I do.

A Glorious Spring


Wildflower by the Trail
I love springtime, as the trees begin to bud, the wild flowers start to bloom, and the birds and bumblebees return to our yard. The hummingbirds are in the blossoms, the eagles are wheeling overhead, and every evening the frogs in the nearby wetlands sing, making an amazing racket.

Crocuses in March
We have been especially lucky the last two weeks to have had lots of sunny days, and I have spent hours and hours out in the garden. I have dug up and planted a small vegetable plot. I have transplanted some shrubs, added more flowers to my spring garden, done lots of yard cleanup, turned over the compost multiple times, and spent a lot of time weeding (although there's still much more to do).
Magnolia Tree

The magnolia tree that I planted last year is blooming. The first of the rhododendron bushes burst into bloom today. I have really been enjoying gardening, and also my forest walks.

Staying Connected

One of the really hard parts of having to stay home is not being able to see people. I miss my kids and grand-kids a lot. Normally on Easter weekend, we would all be getting together and sharing a big dinner. I miss my friends, and all the people in the community that I usually see through volunteer work or in my book club, writers' group, art group, yoga class, and so on.

But at the same time, we have been reaching out to each other and staying connected in other ways. I have been making use of good old-fashioned telephone calls, especially to check in with my kids. I have zoom-conferenced with various groups, including my yoga class. I've messaged with my two older grandsons, and read stories to the grand-kids via FaceTime. I went for a physically distanced walk with my daughter. A screen is no substitute for being with people in person, but it has sure thrown into sharp relief what really matters in life -- the people you love, friends, and community. I'm grateful for the ways we are finding to stay connected. As for sheltering in place, as it turns out, Rob is a pretty good companion to spend my days with.

What are you feeling grateful for?