I’m an empath, which means I tend to feel others’ emotions as my own. In the first days of the coronavirus shutdown, all I felt in my community was fear. I couldn’t run up the main street of my small town without crying. I would inhale everyone’s fear and sadness, hold it, and then exhale.
I felt it all and breathed through it all, because I’ve learned now to do that instead of fighting it. It was hard every time, but I kept running and feeling because running and feeling is what I do.
I have noticed there is a new feeling on the streets in this last week: Judgment. It’s mixed with the smell of honeysuckle, to the point that everything blooming so beautifully carries the distinct smell of indignation. The local moms Facebook group is imploding with anger and full of members who are ready to call the police any time they see more than what looks like a small family out together. They are angry. So angry. They are lashing out at any suspect scenario. A couple of teens playing basketball starts an angry rant, supported in an endless thread filled with comments like . . .
“Shame on these parents!”
“Don’t they know how to parent?”
“Anyone who doesn’t follow the social distancing rules doesn’t deserve treatment if they get it!”
“They are the problem—they are the reason this is spreading!”
“Nobody wants to do what’s hard today! Nobody cares about anybody else!”
Feeling this judgment stuck to the pink petals of those trees I call tulip trees (but which aren’t actually called that) hurts far more than feeling the fear, because it means we are turning on each other, and putting our energies in exactly the wrong place.
My family is sheltering in place (that's my daughter writing in a tree), and of course it’s frustrating when it seems others aren’t.
And yet, I know that I cannot control what others do. I cannot shame them into complying. Cannot frighten them with graphs of infection rates or guilt them with pictures of hospital workers. Not to mention how hard it must be to parent a teenager right now (of all the parent groups, I think parents of teens face the most challenges in this social distancing business). Why would I ever think that I’m a better parent simply because my kids are at an age where I can (mostly) control their movements?
When you feel helpless, you just want to not feel helpless. Hence, you lash out and stand on your soapbox, and you feel you have done something. I know this pattern because I have lived it. I wrote about it in my book about honesty when I talked about parenting shame, and why we so often go there.
But . . . I had this thought while running yesterday, and it’s the first good thought I’ve had since all of this started.
Here it is: The thing I’m going to do each day, with each situation I’m engaged in, is to figure out if I’m in the group that needs help or the group that can help. And if I’m in the group that can help, then I will help.
It’s a matter of re-sorting myself each day, and if I find that I’m still in the group that can help, then I will keep helping.
Help can actually be so many things—yes, staying home, but also: helping my mom understand FaceTime, saying a kind word to someone, supporting a local business, hugging my scared kids, telling my husband he’s doing great when I really want him to stop breathing so loud, sewing PPE masks, or sharing ideas that can help us cope (like this excellent Harvard Business Review piece about feeling grief). And money. Giving as much money as I can. (This is obviously why the re-sorting is necessary because economic fates can change overnight and maybe I won’t stay in the group that can help.)
No judgment, but instead the question: Are you in the group that can help? Just this one self query every day. You don’t get the adrenaline rush you’d get from an angry Tweet or Facebook post, but it will direct your energy somewhere constructive. Because we’re all we’ve got.
I Wrote Something About Books and Cats
I wrote about some cats and some books for my latest Cincinnati Magazine column. I wrote this essay long before the shelter-in-place experience began. But it's interesting timing that it went live this month, because the journey I write about represents why I'm doing okay now in this house with these people 24/7. A few years ago, that wouldn't have been the case. Read it here.
April 1 is the anniversary of starting my honesty journal!
Three years ago today, I opened up a Google document and started writing down every single decision I made about honesty throughout the day. The journal turned into this New York Times article, which turned into the book, Would I Lie to You? The Amazing Power of Being Honest in a World That Lies, which was released a few months ago.
It’s a strange time to have a new book out. People are reading more, so it should be good for sales! But people’s lives are also very complicated now, and getting in front of them with my book feels just a little strange. But it’s available. If you would like to buy it, I encourage you to buy from your local independent bookstore if you can, because they need all the help they can get right now. (The IndieBound link can help you locate where that is, if you don’t know.)