Our house is on fire but we can’t lose hope

Hello there, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. I started a new full-time job, so life has been busy. In spite of continued challenges with the pandemic, this fall has been a thousand times better than last, because my kids are able to go to school.

Reopening schools in conjunction with the Delta surge has been a tricky thing. I know a number of parents who chose to keep their children in online school for the fall. On our part (and the majority of parents seem to agree), I knew that we simply could not continue with online school. We were fortunate to have the kids in a school that takes covid safety very seriously, with precautions that include a fully vaccinated staff, masking both indoors and outdoors, and air filtration that makes the quality of indoor air comparable to outdoor air. Additionally, we were able to sign our kids up for weekly covid testing. With those precautions, in addition to having all the adults in our family locally fully vaccinated, we felt safe sending the kids back.

Still, my daughter ended up recently having to quarantine after being identified as a close contact of a positive covid case in her class. In fact, about half her class was out as there were two unrelated covid cases at the same time. It was a bit stressful, but thankfully none of us ended up getting sick. I guess those safety precautions must be working well. The quarantine time ended up going by quickly — compared to what we’d already been through for the past few years— and now she is back at school.

Despite the fact that my kids have to wear masks all day, and are worried about the possibility of covid, they are still so much happier than they were without school. Their school is still new to them — my son is a first grader who spent most of kindergarten in remote learning, and my daughter is a fourth grader who just joined the school this fall. Both of them seem to have been making a lot of friends. Paul has been telling me he co-leads a recess “gang” of 5 boys who make booby traps on the playground. (I think it’s playful and safe — haven’t gotten any phone calls from the teacher yet!) My daughter has already been to a birthday party, been giving her phone number out to other friends and asking me to schedule playdates. We look forward to having them vaccinated so we can feel more comfortable with indoor playdates and hopefully someday having masking becoming less necessary.

Even with the return to school, my kids seem a bit stir crazy. Yesterday we set our clocks back an hour, and it was perhaps the first time the extra hour in the day was unwelcome. Our weekends still mostly consist of time spent at home with the four of us. This begs, the question, what were our weekends like before the pandemic? At this point, it’s honestly a bit hard to remember. I think we used to stay pretty busy — keeping my kids entertained seemed to reduce behavior challenges. I think our weekends used to be something like: kids’ soccer/basketball game, Girl Scouts activity, occasionally something extra special like going to the ballet, dinner with friends, chores, kid’s birthday party, grocery shopping, church. We have started going to church again, but most of the other fun activities haven’t been happening anymore, or not as often.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which the pandemic has changed us. Yes it has been tragic and unnecessarily bad on many levels. There have been many traumas and losses. But my dad often used to quote a Spanish proverb to me that says, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” This means, “there’s nothing bad from which good can not come.” I suppose the English way of saying it is that every cloud has a silver lining.

Does this saying apply in mass tragedies, such as the pandemic? It’s cliché and may not be the appropriate thing to say, and I don’t mean it to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do believe that God can redeem the dark times in life — although it often doesn’t feel like it.

One of my daughter’s teachers recently had his house burn down. His family narrowly escaped in the middle of the night, and they lost most of their possessions. This seems like an apt metaphor for what it feels like to live in these times. Much has been destroyed, and those of us who’ve escaped with our lives are both grateful and traumatized.

What good can come then from these times? I believe with the loss of our social patterns we’ve been given the opportunity to rebuild. We can reimagine what office jobs look like, for example. Personally I enjoy the ability to now do most of my office work from home and have meetings via zoom. Working from home can be a much more efficient use of time — you don’t have to commute, and you can catch up on chores during your breaks. Depending on the age and needs of your children, they can be at home with you for some of your work hours. This is a huge benefit for parents, and I guarantee that this is the way of the future. Many employees will not be willing to go back to the office full-time. It allows home to be the most important place in your life, rather than the office, and I think that is a positive for a lot of us.

We can also choose to be less busy and have more downtime. Maybe our kids don’t have to be entertained constantly. (Except apparently mine do or they will drive me insane). Unstructured time for kids — time when they are not doing adult-directed activities or staring at screens — is supposed to be quite good for developing their executive functioning skills. (Read this article if you want to learn more about executive functioning and its connection with ADHD).

I do think one of the tragic outcomes of the pandemic at this time is the loss of empathy we’re experiencing as a society. I read a very sad Washington Post article yesterday where a woman wrote about losing both of her unvaccinated adult siblings from covid in a short time frame. She was angry that they had chosen not to be vaccinated and devastated by the loss of two people she deeply loved. In the comments section, many people callously shared that we should not feel sad for unvaccinated people when they die of covid.

Is it not sad when a smoker develops lung cancer, or someone dies of a drug overdose or suicide? I get it — I also have anger towards the unvaccinated for prolonging the pandemic and endangering the rest of us. But hating people will never get us to a better place. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only light can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

We need to focus on loving people. This is a basic tenet of every major religion. Those of us who proclaim to be people of faith, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, need to get back to the basics of loving one another. And maybe that could be a hidden positive outcome of the pandemic — it’s stretching our ability to love people. The Dalai Lama has said that we should be thankful for our enemies because they provide us with an opportunity for spiritual growth. So…yay for opportunities? Loving people is much easier said than done, and this can be true even for the people you love most in life.

It’s a bit hard focusing on the positives when it feels like our house is still on fire and we’re watching it burn. Still, we have to maintain hope. I’ve been thinking of this quote, from Admiral James Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years in Vietnam. He said,

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Admiral James Stockdale

Do you think there could be positive outcomes from this time for either yourself personally or for our society as a whole?

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