April 10, 2020
I’m naturally a creature of habit. I love my routines. They keep me safe, on track, and on task. Every work day, my alarm goes off, I open up my phone to check my calendar, I take the dogs out for a walk, I feed them, and I get dressed for the day. I pour a cup of coffee, watch about 30 minutes of the morning news, and eat breakfast. I’m a man with a plan, and I like to stick to it! One of the first lessons I learned in my seminary church internship, however, was that my need for a plan and the needs of my congregation might not always align. This small Kentucky church taught me that no matter what the bulletin says was next, the leaky roof dripping on the communion table or the swarm of lady bugs on the pulpit might not be so inclined to follow MY plan. I had to quickly learn to bend without breaking.
Over the last few weeks my routine has been disrupted. In fact, 2020 has been an entirely disruptive year for me. My fiance’ fell New Year’s Day and tore his ACL. We have both had surgeries, hospitalizations, and many sleepless nights. Now, with continued calls for a longer period of social distancing to flatten the curve of this pandemic, we’ve had to reschedule our June wedding to August. I don’t want to get married in August. It’s hot and gross and, it’s August. But my plans, my beautiful, glorious plans…well, they’re just not working out.
I now start my day much the same as before. I still get up and look at my calendar. I still drink a cup of coffee while watching the news. I still take the dogs out for their walks. What’s changed is really small compared to what could change if I were to be exposed to this Covid-19 virus. So I accommodate and I get to work at making new plans. And then the Zoom meetings start. New admissions pile up in my secure messages. Everybody wants something and I’m pulled in ten different directions and it’s only 9 am. I’m tired!
I know this isn’t unique to me. I know each and every one of us had/have plans that are being disrupted by this pandemic. We are not where we thought we’d be. That, my dear friend, brings us grief. Grief is the result of disruption. What we are all feeling right now is searing loss. We have been knocked off balance and our best laid plans have been ripped from under us. So, we grieve. We grieve the loss of control. We grieve our loss of independence. We grieve our loss of agency.
There’s been an injury that we have collectively felt since this pandemic altered our way of living. Our collective trauma has not only caused us personal grief but has disoriented us from how we planned and imagined our professional work. We grieve the way we once cared for our patients and families and coworkers as much as we grieve the loss of those personal and familial plans and dreams. As much as I might grieve the wedding I’ve planned for over a year I also grieve how differently I must now do my job.
Deep in grief, it becomes harder and harder for us to maintain our resiliency. Thinking on our feet is difficult when the trauma is still fresh and the disorientation still has us spinning. Being creative, innovative, and passionately present takes more energy than many of us have left to expend. So it’s ok, my dear sweet friend, if you are feeling tender and lost. It’s ok to mourn the loss of your best laid plans, your hopes and dreams. It’s ok to mourn. It’s ok to grieve. It is the cost of love; the love you had for your life before this pandemic disrupted and disoriented us all.
In some ways it feels like I’m not giving or doing or providing enough. I don’t feel like I’m enough. I have a limited amount of energy. I have a limited reach. My hands that I’ve employed in healing now feel like they have been tied behind my back. It even, almost, (maybe even more than I want to admit) feels like I’m injuring more than I’m healing. I cannot seem to find the balance between healing myself and healing you. So I feel burned out. I feel fatigued. I feel ineffective and small and I feel like giving up.
You and I have found ourselves in an impossible situation.
So, it’s ok if you feel as ineffective, tired, or small as I do. It’s ok if the world is still spinning and you can’t seem to find solid ground. It’s ok if your grief sneaks up on you and drips out of the corners of your eye. It’s ok to grieve. Have you allowed yourself to cry? Have you allowed yourself to be angry? Have you allowed yourself a moment to look around and take inventory of exactly how you are feeling? Have you told anyone how you feel?
Yesterday someone asked me how I was doing and how I’m taking care of myself. I made a joke about my unnecessarily large jar of JIF peanut butter being all I need right now. That wasn’t true. I need a break. I need a hug (and you know I don’t do hugs). I need to laugh with my friends. I need to feel normal again. I need to grieve. I need to take a walk and work out the kinks in my back and in my heart. I need wise counsel from trusted friends. I need to cry. I need a plan…a plan to survive, to reorient myself to a new normal. I need hope.
There’s a song we sang often in chapel while in seminary by gospel singer Hezekiah Walker. The lyrics for the chorus of his song “I Need You to Survive” are as follows and I hope they resonate with you on some level:
It is his will, that every need be supplied (You’re important)
You are important to me (Yes you are, I need you)
I need you to survive (You are important to me)
You are important to me, (I need you to survive) I need you to survive
I hope you hear the double meaning of the phrase “I need you to survive.” I need you for my survival. I also need for you to survive. Let us then supply one another’s needs. You are important to me!
Love and Light!