Caught in the Middle

This quarantine has left me feeling caught somewhere in the middle.

We all had a life, carefully built “out there.”

We would come home and engage in our other life – here.

Some people are at home all day, but in this day and age (no longer confined to that little house on the prairie) people have all sorts of adventures out and about. Not to mention all the connections through social media that enable us to venture past the fence and share with neighbors all over the place. I don’t think the term “stay-at-home” works anymore.

“Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.” ― Anton Chekhov

Now, during the pandemic quarantine, like you, I am trapped at home (one of my lives) while trying to manage my other life remotely. This is like living in a vast empty space somewhere between. I’m not sure what the rules are while occupying this new territory?  Remember, I live alone.

  • Do I have to wear pants all day long?
  • What time are meals served?
  • When do I have to go to bed or get up?
  • Can I leave the front door open all day? The sounds of the neighbor children are delightful!
  • What kind of value does a daily To Do List provide? Where did I leave my list?
  • I’m paying how much a month for all this crap on TV?
  • I’m paying how much a month for an internet connection that goes on and off all day long?
  • What kind of strategy is best when venturing out of the house, being friendly but keeping my distance?

“We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn’t obey the rules.” ― Alan Bennett

When you’re stuck in the middle like this it’s an opportunity to take a gander at what life was really like, back before the crisis that put you here in the first place.

Now, why was I holding all those meetings? To read through a list of items that could have been emailed to everyone? Or was it to create an opportunity for social contact and community? Realize that opportunities are often missed.

Why was I spending so much time here at home in front of the TV or computer screen during my former life? Do I really have a cell phone addiction? I thought that was only teenagers? Sure the weather doesn’t always cooperate and the traffic is going to soon get awful again, but there is a different kind of liberation out there. There’s also a kind of incarceration in here.

What was so important that I stayed up all night thinking about over and over again? What did I rehearse in those email drafts? Who was I talking about behind their backs? What parts of my day in and day out did I take for granted, parts of living that I can’t imagine being gone – like my children, my friends, my trips to Starbucks and even getting my haircut?

Trying to live in the middle with all the confusing rules – for just a month, or two or three is nothing compared to, say the Siege of Leningrad (872 days, 1941-1944!). But, maybe it’s enough time to help us all reflect a little and approach the reopening of life differently in some ways:

  • Maybe we can talk to each other less automatically and pay more care to what we say and don’t say. That paperwork is always going to be there.
  • What about leaving the house more (those screens!) and moving about?
  • All those taken-for-granted people in our lives – service industry, healthcare, public safety, grocery store employees, etc. What about saying thank you more often and treating people differently?
  • How about those connections to your extended family wherever they are – what about doing something more often to reinforce those bonds? A phone call, text, video chat, letter, card, something regular that keeps hearts pumping.

No, we aren’t going to be the same people, neighbors, cities, nations or world that we were before. But what if you and I made some intentional choices about who we were going to be once the crisis ended?

“The beginning is always today.” ― Mary Shelley

What Do You Remember?

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” ― Steven Wright

If I look at my phone while on the way to the kitchen I will invariably forget my mission.

I’ve got post-it notes all over the house now – there are several important tasks that I need to keep in front of me.

I’m going to do a better job of trying to learn the names of all 75 of my students this semester, and all 44 of my advisees.

I went to see one of my students last week. She was in the hospital. I live so close, it didn’t take me long to quickly make the decision and get going. She had sent me an email and it sounded like she needed a visit. I learned a long time ago that going to see someone who’s in the hospital can be a big deal and is always worth the effort.

But there was another nagging pull at my emotions as I was getting ready and on my way. Over the past five years, my wife and I had made many trips to the hospital while she fought a hard battle with cancer. Going to the hospital again today hurt as the door to a great room full of feelings was opened up.

Life is made up of choices that we navigate. Decisions that at times we are unconscious about even making. So many of our turns and jolts along the way are shaped by memory. Some of these memories can be painful and still filled with emotions.

“We are our choices.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre

I teach a course in Social Psychology. We cover content related to cognitive biases, the many ways that our thinking can be foggy. Our memories are often distorted in a number of ways. Here are some examples (I’ve shared some of these before):

Hindsight Bias: when we think about past events, we believe that we were able to predict them, we knew it all along

Confirmation Bias: when thinking about the past, we tend to only see pieces that corroborate what we believe – we find what we are looking for (disregarding disconfirming information)

Rosy Retrospective: we tend to remember events the past better than they really were

Self-Serving Bias: we believe we were responsible for the good things that happened but not for the bad things

Reminiscence Bump: it’s often easier to recall personal details from adolescence and early adulthood than from other periods of our life

These are just of few of the problems we can experience. Memory really can play tricks on us. Despite these known problems, I don’t think this is the real worry about our memory. I think we often end up letting our memory use us rather than visa versa.

Instead, I suggest that you:

  1.  Use your memories of the past in deliberate ways to shape your steps today
  2. Let the memories of people from your past help you to get through the troubles of today – and make plans about tomorrow. Let examples inspire you.
  3. Look backwards and make deliberate choices about your memories. Keep those that you can learn from, that give you strength, that you can pass on to others. Let the rest fade away. Set them down, like a heavy suitcase, and walk away.

All of this means you are going to have to spend some time being reflective. Think about your life right now – how did you get here and where are you going?

“I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

As I drove to the hospital last week, there were heartbreaking memories flooding back. But what became more important to me was remembering all of the wonderful people who came to the hospital and took care of us, whose presence, even for a few minutes, was like a cup of hope. What beloved memories that keep me going every single day…and took me down the road that day to the hospital to see someone else.

Suffering and Obedience

christ_in_gethsemane

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8 (NLT)

I can’t explain it.

How did Jesus, who was fully God – fully man, need to learn anything?

He had free will because he was a man.

He had to choose to suffer. He had to choose to follow the path set out from all eternity for him to follow.

If you haven’t already, you are going to suffer in this life. Sometimes, you are going to have to make some choices, the right choices. Doing what’s right can be uncomfortable, painful, lonely and even cause some suffering.

Choosing to walk in faith each day will mean some hard choices along the way. We live extraordinary lives here in the USA and typically aren’t challenged with painful or even life/death choices when it comes to practicing our faith. What puts our faith to death are all the little choices we don’t make every single day.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
― Charles Dickens,  A Christmas Carol

When suffering comes your way there are often choices along each painful step. The right choices can heal your soul in ways that will last forever. It is possible for your Heavenly Father to transform even the most terrible suffering into something miraculous. When we lay it at His feet, all of our pain, all of our worries, each terrible moment can all be redeemed somehow. Our suffering can have eternal meaning when we obey.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4