It’s April 1, 2020. A Wednesday. I got up and joined a Zoom exercise class led by my sister, a fitness instructor. We’re doing body exercises to high-energy music.
I squat, I jump, I lunge left and right. Soon, I’m sweating. I’m punching the air. It feels amazing to take a jab at something. I know I’m not really fighting anything, not running from a real threat, but to my brain it feels like I could be.
“She Is a Maniac” is on and I start crying. It’s stupid how good it feels to punch the air. Yet it feels silly and useless. I feel silly and useless.
I sit in a child’s purple stacking chair, at a child-sized folding table, walking my daughter through the work packet her teachers sent home. My three-year old climbs on my lap, meowing, and starts to lick my face. It might be cute on a normal day.
None of these are normal days.
I feel the pressure in my chest: I want to be warm, patient, kind. I want to scream and run out of the house and never stop.
I smile and ask him to not lick me. He barks in reply and climbs onto my shoulders.
The house is a mess — it was a mess before all this, but that’s been compounded with everyone being home all the time. My three-year old is trying to sit on my head. My six-year-old is whining that writing in lowercases is too hard, she can’t do it, it always comes out wrong. I don’t think I’ve eaten yet today.
Stay positive. I’m spending more time with my kids. We’re bonding.
Stay positive. Husband gets to work from home, I get to have him around more. I’ll get a chance to tackle some delayed projects.
Stay positive. Smile. Don’t crack. Be strong. Look on the bright side. Everything will be ok.
Except I don’t know that. If things will be okay.
I’m doubting if I’m strong enough for this. I’m trying not to crack but the pressure is building. There’s no bright side when the world is in shadow and we’re all feeling our way through darkness.
Smiling only makes me feel sadder, somehow.
I want to, I wish I could. Optimism feels like an ally I’d want right now. But I’m too tired to chase her down.
I can’t conjure positivity, productivity, optimism. And trying hurts, like nails pressed too sharp into my palm or a sore on my lip from anxious chewing. I can’t stand to force myself stay positive.
I remind myself: There’s no obligation to find a silver lining when I’m in the middle of a shitstorm.
That even if I’m looking, sometimes there’s no silver lining to find. There may be no humid drops of hope in the air to catch the light and remind us the sun will shine again, that normalcy will return.
I don’t know when the clouds will part. I don’t know how to “make the most” of this storm.
But it’s not my job to know, or fix it, or even smile through it.
My duty, now, is to nurture what I can as the wind blows, the skies stay dark, and the storms rage. To provide cover for myself and my family. To do my part to not prolong the storm.
We don’t have to look for the bright side. We don’t have to use this time wisely. We don’t have to set more goals or start a new project. We don’t have to be happy and bright and shiny and gentle and patient.
There are times, too, for sadness, darkness, dullness, fierceness, laziness, rage, or despair. Maybe these are those times.
Sorrow and grief belong in a human life just as much as triumph and breakthrough. Perhaps more. For every season of growth, there’s a season of entropy. For every season of flourishing there is a season of dormancy.
Give yourself credit. Getting through is enough.
Where we have hope, it’s important to hold onto it. We can look for the small, constant joys and comforts — not the hidden upside of a shitstorm, but the things that persist through the winds.
A loved one’s face or voice. Trees sprouting new leaves. Birds tweeting outside our windows. The sound of a neighbor’s music or footsteps through the walls. A hot, comforting drink in our hands. A lush blanket wrapped around us. The way that comfort-food frozen pizza tastes the same as always.
Finding these small bits of refuge does not mean faking bravery. Let’s not pressure ourselves to conjure it up out of thin air. We don’t have to be positive, put on a brave face, or be strong.
We can feel what we’re feeling. Tuning out big emotions, tough ones, doesn’t make them go away.
We can be flexible rather than rigid. We can bend a little now and then to prevent a break. We can cry and sweat and create and color and write and walk and talk out the emotions.
It’s scary to feel scared, worried, angry, or sad. But it’s understandable to be feeling all of that. Not feeling optimistic is not a failure. Feeling afraid doesn’t mean you lack faith. And even if you’re failing, losing faith, that’s still okay.
Maybe one day we will look back, and we’ll make sense of this. We’ll find some lesson or meaning. But we don’t need to be learning or teachable now. We might not yet have the perspective to find whatever positives there may be.
There’s no obligation to find a silver lining when we’re in the middle of all of this. We just need to survive long enough for the terrifying present to turn into the hindsight-able past.
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash