“Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
My father and my father-in-law were two very different men. My father descended from the mountain people of Wales, my father-in-law from the tribes of Africa. My father, although the son of a truck-driver was educated up to Masters level, a professional, a preacher and teacher, well spoken, well read. My father-in-law had left school perhaps in the eighth grade to work the fields and support his mother. He was a self-made man, ultimately owning land and able to help countless others.
But there were also many overlapping similarities. Both loved their Bible. Both loved to talk and tell stories, stories with meaning. Both loved their family, though they may have shown it in different ways. In my childhood my father, (and I pause because, being the youngest, I do not have access to all of his life as a father) at least I am not aware of him carrying out any corporal punishment. He could be stern, could deliver a commanding ‘go to your room’, but it is my mother I associate with resorting to physical punishment. My father-in-law on the other hand followed the Biblical edict that if you spare the rod you spoil the child. He was known to wake up a bed full of sleeping children with a belt, if he thought the chores had not been completed to his liking.
But they were both firm believers in lessons. My father-in-law would often declare ‘those who won’t hear, gonna feel’. My father would say, after you relayed some sorrowful tale of how you were wronged, ‘and the moral of this story is?’ They both understood that life is a series of lessons to be learned, and if we don’t pay attention, we may miss an opportunity to grow.
Life in the time of Covid 19. A new saga for our times. Through the lens of social media we are provided with tragic and scary tales (with accompanying video or photos). On our TV we can see political leaders who lean on science and provide us with stark charts and graphs painting a more objective picture of what we are dealing with. Or we can yell at leaders who are still more concerned with the number of viewers than the numbers who have lost their lives.
Yet always there are those who choose to look for pictures of beauty, stories of hope and positivity. We have a choice even during the darkest of times. We can choose to look for the lessons or we can complain. Many of us are blessed with a job that we can do from home. Those who are deemed essential, though still earning a paycheck, are out there in the trenches, facing the enemy (with or without proper PPE, depending on where they work).
But of course the greatest cruelty of this enemy is its capriciousness, its arbitrariness. There are those who have tested positive and show little to no effects, and there are those who are at death’s door (or who have already lost the battle). And as a society we are unprepared to deal with such a disease. We want order, fairness, justice, and we expect the healthcare system to protect us no matter what. What we often forget is that death, however brutal and unexpected, is the only way out for all of us. Two of my schoolmates who may have died due to this virus did so without being hospitalized, without being hooked up to a ventilator, separated from loved ones. So perhaps that sudden death, that time with few symptoms was in fact a gift, a blessing.
Many years ago I read the advice of a physician who works with patients at the end of life. He said there are four things that we need to say before a loved one dies. Very simple: “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.” (Ira Byock). We are all being given the opportunity to say that now, for the hardest part about losing someone is wishing we had said more, had shown them how much we appreciated them, had told them what they meant to us. So say it now!
I watched a documentary about Mr. Rogers the other day (not the one with Tom Hanks). I must confess I was not a fan of his back when my kids were little. There was something a little creepy about him, with his cardigan and nasal voice. In fact I am pretty sure either my husband or I would turn of the TV after Sesame Street. And yet I discovered a man that though scarred from his (wealthy but unhappy) childhood, or perhaps because of it, worked hard to make children feel loved, supported and encouraged. He spoke honestly about scary times; he shared a wading pool with the neighborhood policeman, a black man, at a time when corrosive chemicals were being thrown at African Americans who dared to integrate a swimming pool. He used his house number 143 to spread a hidden message (it was also his weight!) the number of letters in each word of the phrase: ‘I love you.’
In times of tragedy it is important that we laugh, for life will go on with or without us. In times of darkness it is important to remember that light always comes, the sun always rises, green shoots will sprout, birds will sing, the sea will still roll in to shore. ‘We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.’
To all of the members of my family near and far, whether we are bonded by blood, by common history, by profession, or by having a common sense of humor, please hear me as I say this: “I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” We are being given a unique opportunity to learn from this lesson, to see the moral of the story, to feel what we would not hear, that life is way more than things, that love trumps everything.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May you see the beauty of the natural world, feel the kindness of strangers, and recognize the light that dwells within us all.