Big Pandemic Feelings
I ran across this very helpful article. And rather than summarize, or just quote portions, I thought it best to simply include the entire thing. The author, Emily Flake, remarkably captures the profound sense of vulnerability this season is revealing.
So please enjoy her words – both with wit and wisdom – and then I’ll ask a few questions at the end…
Big Pandemic Feelings – by Emily Flake
A couple of weeks (months? years?) into the quarantine, my 7-year-old daughter burst into tears as I dried her hair after a shower. “Please, Mama,” she wailed. “I need to go to school. I need to. School is what makes me, ME.” These words should have broken my heart, but instead I just registered them as heartbreaking as they sank into the dull, empty place where my heart usually is.
But I got it. On a clear, cellular level, I absolutely understood what she meant. I barely know who I am right now either.
I should tell you right away that my husband and I have been lucky through this — so far. We both worked from home anyway; we just don’t typically have to do it while parenting 24/7 and pretending to home school. My husband’s work entails a lot of repetitive administrative and physical tasks. (He runs a record label and fulfills orders for others.) Mine requires a bunch of silly intangibles, a laundry list of diva-level requirements: a measure of solitude. Time to think. Material. And most crucially, a sense of who I am and where I’m coming from, a point of view from which to write. None of these things is currently abundant.
The part of me that used to think and feel and react in ways I could shape into a cogent essay, a humor piece or a gag has been replaced by a small, panicked bird that lives in my chest cavity. This bird alternates between flapping around in there, screeching and fluttering, and lying almost comatose on its side, watching the slow collapse of everything in a state of benumbed inactivity. This bird, to put it bluntly, sucks. I am this bird now, and I hate it.
This pandemic is teaching us so many awful lessons. The one I’m learning from my new life as a panic-bird is that the old structures weren’t just a to-do list; they were part of my identity. It’s OK for you to say, “Yeah, duh,” here. I’ve been saying that to myself a lot. The idea that our humanity is defined at least in part by our relation to others has been covered in holy texts from the Pentateuch to “The Good Place.” I’m very late to this party and horrifically underdressed.
I have always maintained that the ability to find humor in a situation is crucial to my ability to get through it. I’ve managed to pull a few jokes out of all this, but I do not feel especially funny minute by minute. I am not cheerfully rallying my family into fun games of charades. Mostly what I’m doing is snapping at my kid and zoning out on my phone while trying to produce at least the minimum amount of #content necessary to keep a roof over our heads.
It feels dopey to even write this, but humor is central to my sense of self. It’s what I do as a cartoonist, essayist and occasional stand-up comic, but it’s also part of my general life philosophy. The real goal of my work is always human connection. The communal joy of laughter, the balm of knowing that you are not alone in your feelings — those are my touchstones.
Who am I if I can’t string two words together? What am I but a useless blob with a head full of oatmeal?
The other night (or last night, or last month) I was putting my daughter to bed and she started to cry. “What’s wrong, baby?” I asked, and I meant it. She happened to catch me in a moment where the fog had cleared a bit, and I could do a little better than just pantomiming empathy.
“What is all this even for?” she wailed. She didn’t mean the quarantine: “All of this, why are we even here? Why are we even alive?” I tried to put together a soothing platitude about helping one another, leaning heavily on the Sunday school tenet of loving God and our neighbor as ourselves.
To her credit, she was having none of it. “I hate this, I hate everything that’s ever going to happen to me. Help me, Mama, please, please help me.” And if I needed a starker example of the disparity between my constructed self (a cheerful, competent mother) and reality (bird, oatmeal) there it was.
Absent the scaffolding of the world as we know it, I’ve got nothing to say. So I did the only thing I could. I held her, and rocked her, and hoped my silence helped.
My daughter is saying out loud the questions that everyday life helps us forget. This quarantine feels like a time of reckoning, forcing us to look at ourselves as we really are. Maybe whatever world we build after this is over will be more honest about that reality; but I don’t know if that’s something to be hoped for, or deeply feared.
** Click here to read Big Pandemic Feelings – by Emily Flake **
So if you’ve read this far, I want to ask you to consider one of two options: are you 1) panic-bird / oatmeal? Or are you 2) able to give a reason for the hope that is in you (like Peter offers in his first letter, 1 Peter 3:15)?
If you are overwhelmed, as Emily Flake is, I understand!! The Gospel teaches us to expect that life, in and of ourselves, is beyond our powers – including the highest highs and the most terrifying lows. So if that’s what you are realizing, please reach out – to me, to friends, to anyone closest to you that knows the hope of Jesus.
And if you’re not overwhelmed anymore, because you do have the hope of Jesus now, how would you respond to someone like Emily, or her 7-year-old daughter? They surely are not the only ones feeling like that!! I like her article because I think she’s onto something – and as she calls it, a reckoning is not a bad thing if it leads us to come back to Jesus.