Reflections

Pressing pause on the moment



Dear Coronavirus,


Wow! What an rise to fame; a regular overnight sensation. You should be very proud.

I have to warn you, though. Your experience within the human population is going to be quite different than the good old days when you were living it up among the pangolins. I know that a big part of your act is that you move in and help weed out the weakest among the herd. It's a great service that you offer to nature; but here’s the thing - humans have figured out that there’s irreplaceable value embedded inside those bodies that are not as strong as everyone else’s. There's an immeasurable worth that has nothing to do with the desirability of their genetic transmission and everything to do with the transcendent spark of the divine that glows inside them.


You may find this hard to believe - in all your forays around the animal kingdom, I’ll bet you’ve never seen anything like this, but - we humans will fight tooth and nail to protect those who are old and sick. We are willing to deprive our young of their social lives, to suffer trillions in economic damage, to temporarily suspend our constitutional right to assemble, all in the hopes that we can slow you down. We’ve got some epic life-saving equipment in our world - but our nightmare scenario is having the number of sick outpace the number of beds; sending sick people home to die because we ran out of ventilators is an option that frightens us more than the prospect of shutting down entire industries and sparking a worldwide economic crisis.


It’s just not going to be as easy for you as it once was. You are going to go looking for the next human host and come up empty for awhile because - paradoxically - we love one another enough to stay away from each other for the time being.


Gosh, I’m sorry to have to break this to you after you’ve already come this far. Don’t feel too bad, though. You’ve inspired some legendary memes and epic toilet paper shortages, which is more than most viruses can say.


Bon Voyage on your journey back to eventual obscurity.


Sincerely,


The Human Race




It's become my favorite story to tell: the one about the day I came home after a community event where I'd hung out with a fitness addict friend. I told her, proudly, that I'd been doing yoga regularly for the past few weeks. She told me, nonchalantly, that she had just finished her morning run of 6.5 miles. My jaw dropped and to cover my sudden workout inadequacy, I said something along the lines of, "Good for you. I hate running."


That didn't deter this friend at all. "You should do a 5k. I'll run it with you. We'll find a Sunday race and do it."


Of course, my gut reaction was, Ha! No way! Because my idea of an endurance sport is to tread water for an hour-and-a-half while holding my current novel above the water level so I can be entertained while I swim in place (Yes, my one fitness achievement I brag about). But there was another reaction layered beneath that one: You think this is something you cannot do. Therefore, you should do it.


So, I said yes, okay, I'm in, let's do this. And there was that spring in my step on the way home when you have something new and exciting awaiting you and I walked in the door and announced to The Engineer, "I'm going to run a 5K."


Whereupon he burst out in hysterical laughter that continued for the next five minutes.


If I didn't really want to do it before, I definitely wanted to now!


So, I downloaded a 5k training app and set my alarm for early enough that I wouldn't broil to death under the deep-south sun and I got out there. Five minute walk to warm up. Perfect. I can do this. And I listened to my audiobook - the one by the moral psychologist - while I walked. Then, through my headphones came the instruction to run. So I took off in a dead run. 45 seconds and I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn't breathe. Walk, came the soothing voice of my app trainer, and not a moment too soon. I limped forward for another minute before being told to run again, so I pounded the pavement for another 60 seconds, feeling again that there was no way I was going to be able to do that again. But that's what the app told me to do, over and over and at the end I was this close to puking.


A few days in, I texted my sister-in-law:

-You'll never guess what I started doing this week.


-Running.


-How did you know that??!!


-I just thought to myself, what's the one thing that Jessie has never had any interest in doing?


This is a testament to how established a fact it is that I am a non-runner...and to how well my sister knows me.


Fast forward two months or so, past a run with that same sister who actually knew what she was doing and showed me that what I actually need to do is jog, not sprint; past hours of watching YouTube runners tell me how to make it just a little more efficient; past the few times I tried to run with the Engineer and and he zoomed ahead and did push ups while he waited for met to catch up (It was a real toss up whether I was more annoyed or impressed by this).


Past the milestone of running an uninterrupted mile. And an uninterrupted two miles.


Past the days in between where every foot strike was an exclamation point at the end of a mental I HATE THIS!

Past the hours that I've blasted Jocko and JP through my headphones - although, really, maybe that's actually the most important part of this whole endeavor because as my lungs are burning and my calves are aching, I am making space in my day to activate Discipline Equals Freedom in my body. I am starting off my day with an acceptance of suffering as a path to growth.


Pause at today, at the moment in my run just after I had turned around and started towards home. I had just passed the guy with the huge backpack going the other way on his bike (we nod at each other now), I glance up at the pair of little old Chinese ladies with their dramatic arm swings, walking together on top of the levee...and at the other pair of Chinese ladies a little further down. I note that the middle age woman with the Marathon Finisher t-shirt is out again today (I suddenly notice these shirts now and the superhumans who wear them) and despite my inner coach shouting at me to pace myself, I feel bound and determined to pass her. And I realize that, for the first time during a run, I am thinking:


I love this.

I love the feeling that, despite the fact that I've always insisted, "I'm not a morning person!" my body now thinks that 7am is sleeping in and some of my most productive hours are before the kids get up.


I love the feeling that, despite the fact that I've always insisted, "I just can't run!" I am out here, over a mile into a run, going painfully slow, but still going...


I love the feeling that all of these people out here on the levee have been on to something all this time and I've finally been let in on the secret.


I love the feeling of pushing back the boundaries of my self and becoming something I never thought I could be.


I know, it's small. It's just a 5k. But I've always been a cynic when it comes to the idea that people can change. It's something I want desperately to believe, but when I see people eternally stuck in the same ruts year after year, I kinda start to roll my eyes at the idea that humans can change themselves in any sort of meaningful way - and then there's a heart-stab when I realize that I'm also one of those stuck people.


I'm deep into planning for the coming school year, amassing piles of books and making lists of skills acquisition that need to be prioritized. And, as happens more frequently than I'd like to admit, I hit a wall one night when I looked from the pile of books to our schedule and realized that there was no way we would ever get to all of these and ohmygosh am I being derelict as a educator because Blue will not get to the Illiad this year, and Orange is not ready for grammar because his reading is far from fluent, and Green wants to learn coding but how in the world will we fit that in?!


And it took a series of deep breaths (and just throwing up my hands and making a sno-ball run with the Engineer) to get my feet back on solid ground and remember that learning is incremental. It's wading a tiny step at a time into a vast body of knowledge and your progress seems so infinitesimal that it's almost non-existent.


But then, you look back at the shore and are shocked at how far away it is and you smile a little bit when you realize that all those tiny steps really did add up to something of great significance.

Whether it's learning the basics of botany one flower at a time, or gaining one new word of of a new language, or doing one more rep of that workout move that feels like it's going to do you in, or running a minute longer than you did the last time, or waking up earlier than your gravity-prone body wants to because your soul tells you that even though the calendar says this is just an ordinary day, you know deep down that there are important things you have to do that just can't wait...


...any one of those actions, in singularity, may be insignificant. But day after day, in aggregate, they lead to the definition of you being tweaked, changed, and maybe even unrecognizable from the person you were before.


So, the moral of this, my new favorite story, is that small, consistent steps can lead to unbelievable change. And if you're still skeptical, meet me out on the levee tomorrow with the sunrise and we'll run together.


P.S. And the other moral is that if you hang around a friend like Lilach long enough, you'll eventually find yourself sweating through a workout and wondering, "How in the world did she get me to agree to this?!"


P.P.S If you need a daily reminder of this idea while you are doing the abovementioned sweating, here's my favorite way to get it:



I was having second-thoughts about the importance of my career choice, until I realized how much someone in particular needed what I had to offer.



My downfall began when I became amazed at the invention of the side scan sonar magnetometer.


My kids are working on a plan to locate and salvage a lost shipwreck. They've mapped and diagrammed, jotted down supply lists, and, of course, talked about how they will split up and subsequently spend the money. All that remains is to learn how to scuba dive, hire a boat some gear and they'll be in business!


To help expose them to some...unconsidered logistics, I found a documentary series called The Sea Hunters, which follows a dive team lead by Clive Cussler (of Sahara fame) that takes on the job of finding some of the most mysterious or iconic lost shipwrecks in history. One of the more tedious ways that they go about doing that is by setting up a search grid and dragging a side scan sonar magnetometer back and forth across this grid, like mowing a vast, wet lawn. Thousands of feet below the surface, this thing can detect ferrous metal and pop a little 3D graphic of it's shape onto the monitor onboard the ship.


I was in awe at the mind that invented that. I imagined the person who had lost something important to the ocean floor and who said, "You know what, I'll bet I'm not the only one who has lost stuff down there. I'm going to make something that will solve that problem for everyone!"


To take my wonderment to the next level, we watched dive teams in the aftermath of an oversea plane crash salvage the shattered plane piece by coin-sized piece and rebuild it in order to determine what had gone wrong and caused the crash. I watched the crash investigator examine a circuit board, pieced together and rebuilt onto a sheet of plexiglass, so that they could find out which circuits had been overloaded and examine the pattern of the burn marks. These were discrete pieces the size of nuts and bolts that had been scattered over the ocean floor and these amazing minds were able to find them and piece them back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle and solve the mystery so that tomorrow's flights would always be safer than yesterday's.


Meanwhile, I had washed the dishes and read a novel that day.


My amazement at mankind's achievements necessarily brought my own lack of contribution into focus. And once I became aware of it, I couldn't stop noticing it. My husband, the Engineer, helps figure out how to get oil and gas from the belly of the earth so that our hospitals have power and so that people don't freeze to death in the winter, and so that these plastic components that make up the laptop I'm typing on can be produced affordably for the masses. I have friends that do amazing things - they run companies and represent others in court and teach at universities and heal people in hospitals. I surveyed the land from what I perceived was their elevated height...and felt myself slipping into obscurity and irrelevance in my own eyes. My amazement at the accomplishments of others took an uncomfortable turn as an insidious voice in my head started narrating:


"Amazing! That person has actually done something with their life. Don't you wish you could say the same?"

I felt twelve years old in my own eyes. Everyone else seemed so fluent in the language of living while I was stuttering my way through, feeling like an imbecile.


At the tail end of several days of being repeatedly impressed by others' competency and feeling less and less like I was a properly developed adult, I found myself feeling total emotional emptiness as I walked my kids home from baseball practice. There was the usual cacophony of chatter amongst them...except for one, who remained sullen and silent. When he fell into step beside me, I put my arm around his shoulders and just let it rest there; what exactly was bothering him, I didn't know. But what I did know was that it sucked to feel alone, and at least I could do something about that.


After a few paces, he slipped his arm around my waist and out of the corner of my eye, I saw his chin tremble. I gave a little squeeze. He gave a little squeeze back. When we were close to the house, I sent the others on ahead and slowed to a stop with the one who now had tears trickling down his cheeks.


"What's going on, bud?" I looked him in the eye and he fell into me, clinging to me, "Everyone has been such a jerk to me for the last two hours. You are my only comfort right now! I'm never going to leave your side!"


Three sentences from him was all it took for me to realize something amazing: I know this kid! I've spent years studying him, observing him across a spectrum of situations and stimuli, experimenting with ways to motivate and encourage and inspire him. I've made him my life's work. And because of that, I was uniquely prepared to know how to help guide him along this bump in his path.


As we maneuvered through his situation and I saw his heart become lighter, mine soared. The book of Proverbs gives some beautiful parenting advice: "Educate a child according to his own way, and when he is old he will not depart from it." There is not one gold-star, guaranteed, cookie-cutter system that will work for every kid. Each is a unique person; born with some helpful tools already in their tool box and others that will need to be acquired and instructed how to use. Like any complex field, figuring out which tools are present and which ones are missing requires dedicated study.


These five beautiful, intricate souls are my field of research and expertise. John F. Kennedy's mother, Rose, raised nine children - several of whom figured prominently in the public eye. She said:


"I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best that I could bring to it."

I may not be solving the problem of curing a persistent disease or sourcing reliable energy or figuring out how to recover planes from the bottom of the ocean. But I solving the world-encompassing problems of a little boy who felt emotionally defeated and didn't know how to move forward. And a boy who knows how to face defeat and move forward will become a man who can survive the inevitable defeats of life and accept the risk intrinsic to great discovery.


Standing here, ready to start another day with these five unique minds, five strong-beating hearts and their mass of churning arms and legs ready to take them out and let them get their hands on the world, I'm smiling to myself, satisfied in my career choice, energized by the realization that I'm investing five-fold in a brighter future for humanity.


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