We are all having a hard time right now.
One of the cardinal rules of good writing and concrete communication is to not over-generalize. What is true for one may not be true for another. But in light of the pandemic creeping across our planet these days, I don’t think this statement is an exaggeration.
For some of us, this time means stress over loss of income or unexpected childcare. For others, it quite literally means illness or even death. For some, it is simply the cabin fever of unforeseen stay-at-home orders lasting longer than an extroverted heart can bear. For others, it is a crushing weight of loneliness while confined for safety’s sake without the balm real human contact. For some, milestones are being missed: theatrical productions, senior year hijinks, family reunions, birthday parties. For others, the fear of the unknown and the threat of separation is touching even the anticipation of a new baby or the closure at a loved one’s deathbed.
All of these hardships are legitimate. All of this suffering is real and poignant to the people whom it touches.
The idea that someone else’s pain does not invalidate what you are personally going through, whether or not it is objectively worse, is not a new one. But in the past year or so, it’s been a learning curve for me.
I’ve always identified with the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality (never mind the fact that this is a figure of speech designed to illustrate something that is impossible to do!) and am often impatient with others who seem to be whining or complaining about something that really isn’t that bad, all things considered. This, of course, also translates to my own life as well: if I’m struggling with something, it’s easy to heap guilt on myself because obviously there are lots of other people who have it a lot worse!
But this doesn’t help anyone. There is no reverse-transfer of guilt that magically takes the bad feelings about your own circumstances and somehow transforms them into Good Vibes for people who are in a worse situation. Life doesn’t work that way.
It is okay to be sad, it is okay to be frustrated and lonely, even if someone else has it worse. Because, spoiler alert: someone is always going to have it worse. There’s no glory in being top finisher in the Pain Olympics.
And it goes the other way, too.
There are moments of joy to be found even in hard times and it is okay to enjoy them.
Because this is hard to do, too — it’s so easy to pull guilt down on your head for being happy about trivialities when you know others are suffering. Even if you are suffering, too, in your own way.
I’m really fortunate right now. I have a job that enables me to work from home for my own safety and for the safety of others. My husband, though he can’t work from home, is considered “essential” and though I worry about him every day, he takes every precaution he can. We will not be struggling to make rent next month. I know this is a huge privilege. I’m grateful for it.
But that doesn’t make everything easy. I’m an introvert by nature, and a hobbit by choice. (My husband is all that times ten, and has no earthly clue why I do sometimes want to have friends over.) The quiet and stillness and lack of social obligation right now is not hurting me, though I’m disappointed over canceled plans I had been anticipating. Uncertainty and anxiety are plaguing my thoughts. I work in healthcare, in an area that is deeply affected and overtaxed by this virus. I worry every day about my coworkers who are deliberately and sacrificially putting themselves in harm’s way.
And yet a particular prayer of mine these past few mornings has been that God would open my eyes to the moments of joy.
They are still there, after all.
It’s so easy to focus only on the hard things. The worry. The anxiety. The restlessness. The fear. It seems frivolous to let my mind rest on yogurt that tastes really good.
But the hard circumstances aren’t increased or worsened because I paused to enjoy. I’m not forsaking responsibility because I chose to take solace in a good thing. (Yes, yes, a shiftless mindset that refuses to acknowledge problems or make any attempt to improve things is a problem indeed, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)
So today, I want to work harder at enjoying the happy bits of my day: the moments of sunshine, the dishwasher that’s working properly, the cold glass of juice, the comfy yoga pants, the books waiting to be read.
I’m not necessarily advocating a happy spin on every piece of sadness. That peters out fast. Not every difficulty has its own particular silver lining, but I can still cling to being grateful nonetheless. That’s the point of counting One Thousand Gifts, isn’t it?
It’s kind of funny that I finally decided to finish this post today. I actually started it back in January as a follow-up to my post about focus. At the time, my inspiration for that post was “a new concept: allowing myself to just enjoy without hounding myself about what I need to do next.”
To a certain extent, that’s still true (all though it’s funny how pregnancy exhaustion and sickness can at least temporarily cure you of the desire to do-all and be-all!) It’s definitely true that a big part of enjoying is found in simply slowing down. As a wise friend of mine recently said, “Slowing down isn’t meant as an invitation to rev the engine. Slowing down is meant for reflection — a selah to deepen understanding.”
I’m going to slow down, and I’m going to enjoy. And let myself be, for just a little while, without giving myself a lecture or a to-do list. I hope you will, too.
This is a hard time that calls for faith, and hope, and the joy that comes from grateful love. (Yeah, you knew I was going to loop this back to One Thousand Gifts again. I can’t help it. I really like that book.)
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.
It never fails.
Originally published, in a longer form, at http://thebluestockingdressmaker.blogspot.com on April 3, 2020.