I’ve been thinking about what’s really important in my life since the pandemic hit, now giving serious thought on what my “new normal” looks like and how I’m reflecting on it for purpose and meaning. Initially when social distancing measures began, I felt a “blanketing peace” over me that I couldn’t really explain. For the first time in years, everything that I was doing, all day, most every day, was cancelled. I didn’t have to go to campus to teach my courses. I didn’t have to leave my house to go to the store. I didn’t have to put on makeup or get dressed for public appearance, so that meant I didn’t have to stand in my closet for long periods of time trying to figure out what to wear, what shoes or boots to put on, what jewelry pieces to add, or even how I was going to style my hair (or which wig looked best with the outfit). I had no place to go, no one to see, and nothing that I had to do.
I’d been on a fast-track of doing, going, and being, studying, writing, giving, achieving, completing, researching, expanding, in a never-ending reach for attaining success. I’d earned my Master’s degree in Social Work while working several jobs and going through a divorce. I’d experienced a life-threatening illness shortly after that where I nearly died. Then, my job as a Clinical Instructor required so much of my time, including community service, presenting educational topics in community, getting into another relationship that lasted one year, and then a relocation. All that time, never stopping to breathe, rest, or just have space to just be. The next 10 years were no different—just a different agenda. I went back to school to earn my doctorate (5 years of extreme cruelty and politics—I learned it wasn’t about getting a 3.97 GPA, but it was about petty politics with some (not all) educated, power-hungry, insecure adults who found sick pleasure in making life chaotic for other people. There was no rest for my weary soul and body. Right after earning my doctorate (and I did earn it), I was offered a position at a university located in a rural community in NC, locating there one day after graduating and starting a new job one week later. For three years, I was on fast-pace in that job, working every day, weekends, and constantly giving of myself to committee work, university service, community service, and still engaging in national and regional presentations, research, writing for publications, and maintaining relationships long-distance with family and friends. Three years, non-stop. Then, a blessing to start another position in an urban area in NC came to me after years of prayer. Again, no rest, but another relocation and starting the new job within a few weeks. Another culture to learn and to adapt to. Another set of rules, policies, and procedures to learn. Another environment to adjust to and settle into, as well as learn my way in a city where I had no friends or family, once again.
And then the pandemic hit. Quiet before the storm. Now, I understand. I know that blanketing peace I felt in those first few days was a gift of rest from God for my weary soul and body. For the first time in over 16 years, I had no place to go, nobody I had to see, nothing I had to do. For the first time in all those years, I was able to rest my mind and my body without guilt of not getting something done or meeting a deadline.
But as you may already know, empty spaces are soon refilled with something. Where I was actually sleeping better at night and reflexively enjoying the quietness of the day, I have begun to see the shift back to the “business of busyness”. The stillness of just being, without doing, is quickly dissipating. The gradual adding of virtual appointments, activities, meetings, and COVID-19 webinars have started to fill my calendar, although I’m sheltering in place, not going anywhere, but going everywhere virtually. Now, it seems like there’s more virtual attention-draining things I’m “supposed” to do that remind me of the 16 years of non-stop doing, going, and being that resulted in not so good results for my mind and body. So, experience has taught me a few things that I choose to adhere to for the sake of my mental sanity and physical wellness. I have a choice and I can choose to allow the busyness of business to consume me or I can choose to receive and maintain the “blanket of peace” I initially felt over my mind, body and soul.
The bottom line for me is that no matter how much I do or see virtually, my new normal doesn’t have to be centered around staying busy for business’ sake. The never-ending demands of work, pressures to perform, be the best, and do the most, don’t ever go away. That’s the way of the world and if I’m not careful, I can get consumed by its ferocious appetite that can never be satisfied. When I think about how many people are caught up with the desire to be a S.T.A.R., I choose to release myself from that mentality. The S.T.A.R. acronym is one that came to me a while ago as I observed the ways some people project themselves to get attention through social media. S=Seen. Some people will do just about anything to be seen, even if it doesn’t project who they really are. T=Talked about. Some people just want others to talk about them, even when the talk is unhealthy and makes them look foolish. A=Admired. Being admired is commendable, in itself. But when it becomes more important than being appreciated and valued, it loses something. R=Remembered. Again, most of us want to be remembered, but we may want to think about how that memory will be. Do you want to be remembered positively for leaving a legacy of value and worth, something you did and how you lived that generations to come can see the purpose your life had? Having a S.T.A.R. mentality can go two ways—for show and entertainment or for purpose and meaning. We get to choose.
For me, this pandemic has led to re-thinking what my new normal will look like. People are dying all around us—one minute healthy and alive and the next week—gone forever from this earth. That’s sobering to me and because none of us know the day or the hour we will go to the other side, I choose to use my time making memories that bring joy to my soul. I choose to take time to talk to and listen to my grandchildren (for now, virtually). I choose to find things we can talk about that brings laughter and fun to our conversations. I choose to show appreciation to my friends and family members by letting them know how much I love them. I choose to share love, kindness and encouragement to the world around me, taking time to call and check on seniors and those who live alone. I choose to be less critical and more compassionate towards people, situations, and things beyond my control. I choose to hold onto my faith in God and let the joy of the Lord be my strength in these uncertain times where so many are struggling to see the good in anything around them. I choose to be more collaborative and less competitive in whatever I do to bring greater good to the world through my gifts, talents and time.
I choose to keep the “blanket of peace” around me so that I remain mindful that God intends for us to get rest for our weary souls and bodies, even in a pandemic.