Noticing the Good, Even Now

My husband and I have taken four different walks around our neighborhood this past week – a different route each time. We love walking, but not usually in March in northeast Ohio. If it weren’t for COVID-19, we would have been at the gym, or at work, but instead, we walked outside. And on each of the four walks, we saw something new. First, hand-painted rocks on the side of the path, each with a positive greeting. Second, sidewalk chalk messages to neighbors. Third, “Happy Birthday” signs for a girl in the neighborhood who was celebrating her 7th birthday yesterday. And fourth — just more people than usual, certainly more people out for this time of the year, and they were all waving and giving one another understanding looks, glances that said (from a distance), “Yes, we’re all in this together.” I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 16 years, but this is — by far — the most “neighborly” it’s ever felt.

Annabelle

I have spent hours over the past twelve days reading recommendations on how to cope during this time of crisis. We are all well-versed on what the medical experts advise for the good of public health. But what is it that will help us maintain a sense of emotional and spiritual well-being?

One important step is to be aware of our feelings and to accept them. We are grieving, we are disappointed, we are afraid, we are anxious, we are angry. Let yourself feel. Find healthy ways to express your feelings. Don’t try to deny them or suppress them.

That first step gives us a foundation on which to build. The second step is realizing that we still have choices.

Much has been taken away from us. We can’t move as freely in the world as we could two weeks ago. Meetings, sporting events, cultural activities, social engagements have cancelled. Work may have slowed. Trips have been postponed.

As a result, many of us have more choices now about how we will spend our time.

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And even more fundamental: we can choose what to focus on. And that choice can be life-changing. It can certainly affect our ability to cope well during times of crisis. Many neuroscientists who study both the brain and human behavior conclude that we can train our brains to help us cope with stress. Concentrating on positive emotions, deliberately focusing on feelings such as compassion, joy and gratitude cause our brains to inhibit disturbing fear-inducing messages.

Please note that “training our brains” is NOT the same as sticking our heads in the sand. Neither am I recommending that we wear rose-colored glasses. No, the second step (being aware of our ability to choose our focus) always comes after the first. In these days of corona crisis, job one is to be very aware of public health recommendations — and follow them — and then to be aware of and accept our feelings. THEN we begin to think more creatively about what we will choose to focus on.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being grateful for the good things that are emerging from this time. As author Winifred Gallagher puts it, “Just because something bad is happening doesn’t mean lots of good things aren’t also. They’re two very different phenomena. The joy and meaning you find in life and the current stressor…are separate concerns, and you can experience both.”

None of us would ever choose these current circumstances, and, of course, we pray fervently for those affected by the coronavirus and those on the front lines. At the same time, let’s notice what there is to appreciate about this unusual season, and what, in fact, we may want to try to keep.

Our eyes have been opened these past twelve days, and I’m sure we’ll continue to learn and observe more in the days and weeks to come. We’re realizing what a slower pace of life feels like. We’re discovering the joys of cooking at home and family dinners. We’re taking more walks, playing more games. People are making music, and art. There’s more time for reading. When we discover we miss our friends, we’re setting up online meetings, looking forward to them, and savoring each moment of laughter and conversation.

On a global level, the air is clearer, the water is cleaner.

We will all look forward to the day that this crisis is over, but in the meantime, what are the unexpected gifts of this season? What parts of this “new normal” might we want to retain?

2 thoughts on “Noticing the Good, Even Now

  1. Jennifer Birk

    Pastor Kelly, Thank you for this and for being a continued inspiration to us all. This crisis has definitely changed us all. I’m so grateful for so many things but I’m really enjoying our nightly evening dinners and conversations with my family. It is making our relationships stronger. It’s definitely my favorite part of our “new normal”. God bless, Jennifer

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