The COVID-19 roller coaster: from terror to hope and back again

Terror.

Surrealism.

Acceptance.

Hope.

Life amid the COVID-19 pandemic is like riding a roller coaster, with ups and downs and surprises at every turn. This afternoon on my “daily walk of sanity” I was overcome with gratitude for this beautiful day – temperatures in the low 70’s, abundant sunshine, a brilliant Carolina blue sky, dogwoods blooming, and bright yellow-greens of tender new leaves everywhere. It felt like a sign of hope, a moment of zen, making it hard to acknowledge that 100’s of millions of people’s lives have been upended by this invisible pathogen.

After several weeks of social-distancing, wiping down doorknobs and cellphones, following government shelter-in-place orders (while also caring for my 90-year-old dad at his home), and trying to reduce exposure to the novel coronavirus, I had moved from terror to surrealism, through acceptance, and finally latched onto hope. But this week everything changed again, and I flipped back to terror and anxiety.

Knowing this virus would catch up to my family had always been a possibility (OK, a probability), but I hoped my actions and those of others would keep it out there, away somewhere, but not here. Now, it’s here – in our family. A healthy, athletic, young 30-something human being in our family is in the ICU, fighting for his life. His battle with this virus a stark and terrifying reminder that it is not just a threat to the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and the ill. It is a threat to all of us.

As I pray and hope and send positive thoughts and wishes to our young family member (and his family), the initial terror, fear, and uncertainty that came with the arrival and acknowledgement of COVID-19 nearly a month ago returned as surely as the next peak on the roller coaster. It is an anxious time, to be sure. He’s not out of the woods yet, but the latest news is that he’s getting better, so there is reason for hope again.

When I’m anxious and needing reassurance, I often turn to yoga, meditation, or Dharma talks to help me calm down and focus on the present, to call in gratitude, and to connect with our shared human spirit. I happened across the following talk on my Insight Timer app this week, and encourage you to take the 34 minutes to listen. (start at the 1:33 minute mark) Travis Eliot suggests we ask “Why is this happening FOR me?”, rather than “why is this happening TO me?.”

As a collective human community, we’ll get through this, and we’ll be more compassionate, more grateful, and more loving because of it. Because that’s who we truly are. We are resilient. We are smart. We are connected.

So, go out and look at the blue sky, the bright sun, the spring leaves. Walk in the woods. Breathe the fresh air. Be kind. Smile at someone. Be grateful for today, because no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Ride the roller coaster with as much grace as you can, and stay healthy, friends.

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