23 Mar Reflections On The Time We Are Living In
Over the last few weeks, I have found myself strangely silent. As someone who has made his living and whose life purpose has been meant to inspire the human spirit and bring hope, I have felt some internal pressure to speak. Not because anyone expects me to, nor because I feel my words somehow have weight, but most of all because the work of a writer and speaker is to make sense of things. I also fervently hope I might say something that would be helpful to others, even to myself. So, to help those who are searching for advice or in need, I want to share some reflections on living in the times we now find ourselves in.
First, I want to recognize the pain, fear and loss that many are experiencing. People saying goodbye to loved ones in a time when they will be seen as only a number in a growing tally, people who’ve lost their work and livelihood overnight and worry how they will survive, for those now lonely and isolated, for whole nations losing a sense of order including my ancestral homeland of Italy and for the fear that grips many of us. One of the small silver linings here is that unlike Spanish Flu which mostly killed younger people, this time it is mostly those older (including those my age) who are most at risk. It may seem a small thing, but it does mean that most who die will have already lived many good years.
I also want to express deep gratitude to those who keep serving with great courage during this time: to all the healthcare workers who, often without the proper protection risk their lives to save those who can be saved, to the grocery, utility and delivery workers for their day to day courage so they can keep our basic functions possible. We will owe them, in the end, as much gratitude as we do to veterans who risked life on the front lines of wars past. If you see one of them, please let them know how grateful we are.
So here are some of my reflections about the times we are living through. I find myself very grateful now to have read so many first-person accounts of those who lived through great challenges in the past. People like Victor Frankl who survived the concentration camps, a woman in Rwanda who lost her entire family and hid in a small basement closet for months living on a few morsels of bread and coming within moments of dying every day, and as well the first-hand accounts of my own grandparents who lived through a war and raised three girls during the Great Depression, and the tales of my stepfather who fought in Europe for two years during the Great War. I find this helpful because it reminds me how powerful the human spirit is. As hard as these times are, we can individually and collectively remain hopeful even if this period of challenge lasts for some time. The human spirit is resilient. We have it in each of us and those who have done so before us remind us of the courage we all have within.
Another reflection I have is that when we are presented with great challenge, there comes an opportunity to find out who we truly are. It is only when much is asked of us that we find out our truest nature. As Jane Goodall said this week, “This will bring out the best and the very worst of human nature.” Each day, we each have a chance to lean into our goodness. Who needs our help? Even if I get the disease and suffer or die, can I do everything I can to ensure the virus does not spread for the sake of others? If I have much, will I give to those who have less? Do I keep my employees on the payroll, even at my own expense because it is the right thing to do? Am I being sensitive to the needs to my own loved ones as they deal with all of this differently than I do? One day, we will all look back and remember the choices we made.
It is also critical to keep our mindset, as hard as it is, in the largest perspective. As I drove back from California to Canada through the mountains of Idaho, I was struck by the fact that all of nature is continuing as it was. There will be human suffering, a great deal perhaps, but life continues to thrive, perhaps ironically, even more now as our industrial enterprise has grinded to a halt. Somehow, I find this comforting. Humanity’s journey will also go on and hopefully with more wisdom than before.
I cannot help but think of an experience I shared earlier this year from my second walk on the Camino.
There is a place on the Camino called the Cruz De Ferro where thousands of pilgrims have left rocks to symbolize their journey over a 1,200 year period. There are untold number of rocks there, including two from my two visits. When one arrives at this place, it is easy to feel small as if our one rock matters little. But the other experience is of great connection, the awareness that our one rock is part of a larger conversation that began before us and will go on after us. I find it comforting to know this has always been so. I have often said that the greatest human flaw is the experience of separation.
My final reflection is to make sure to find a purpose in this moment. Victor Frankl said those who survived the concentration camps were those who had a reason to live, and this reason was often to be of service to others. It is hard to find a sense of calling when we are holed up in isolation or filled with fear. Yet somehow that sense of purpose is just the thing we need to get us through. One of my simple places to find purpose is checking in with my friends and acquaintances much more regularly. Just knowing we are not alone is a great gift, and one each of us can give now every day.
For now, I want to wish all of you great love and courage. There will be light on the other side of this however hard it may be to see it. Those who came before us lived though much hardship and we are all ancestors of survivors, people who found the courage to weather hardship and find hope.
Wishing you all a blessing. Stay safe, do good, stay hopeful.