Like schools across the country, the Yale University School of Music has been deeply affected by COVID-19. Figuring out how to perform ensemble and orchestra music or even teach lessons has been an incredible challenge. On May 18, 2020, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker stood in an empty Morse Recital Hall on Commencement Day in front of an online audience and said, “The disappointment among and between us all is palpable. Despair is a place where hopelessness resides. It is the destination for those who have been completely broken by the world and its relentless disappointments. The artist must summon the courage to take a different, unmapped route, and that detour around the destination of despair enables us to push forward.”[i]
Taking that detour around the destination of despair is a challenge for all of us as we continue to adapt and innovate during this Pandemic time. I am reminded of a quote that has been attributed to Plato and also to Philo of Alexandria, but there is no clarity about its origin. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” As we approach the one-year anniversary of our world-wide struggle with the Pandemic, I wonder, “What has COVID-19 taught us?”
I have vivid memories of sending an email to clergy and laity in the Iowa Annual Conference on March 12, 2020, saying, “With fourteen cases of COVID-19 reported by the Iowa Department of Public Health (as of March 11) and an additional 126 being monitored, the Iowa Annual Conference is canceling or postponing all upcoming events for the months of March and April 2020. The evolving situation is being closely monitored and information will be updated frequently.”
Just two days later, the evening of Saturday, March 14, I sent an email to all clergy, advising them to cancel in-house worship for the foreseeable future. I wrote, “As it has become clear, the coronavirus will get worse before it gets better. That has entailed changes in our everyday life and work, as we all seek to avoid exposure and infection with the virus.”
I chuckle at my naivete. Lament is the word that best describes where many of us sit right now. Hopes and dreams have been dashed for many over this past year. We are out of synch, feeling unmoored, untethered, uncertain, and forced to take a different, unmapped route. Will the Pandemic ever end? When will I be able to see my grandchildren? Will the day ever come when we can all gather together for in-person worship without wearing masks or social distancing? Will I be able to hug my church friends again? I have only met one time in-person with our Iowa Annual Conference cabinet since last March, and we were masked and socially distanced across the room. There are so many things we cannot do. But one thing we can do. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. We are literally all in this together.
There has been a lot of talk over these last months about COVID fatigue. We are worn out from one virtual meeting after another. We desperately miss our family and friends whom we cannot see. And many people have lost jobs and are literally living on the edge. The stress of COVID can manifest itself in different ways, including feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration; changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests; difficulty concentrating and making decisions; trouble sleeping; physical reactions such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes; intensification of existing health conditions; and substance abuse.
At the same time, we are beginning to emphasize the importance of COVID-resilience as the Pandemic continues and we wait for the time when everyone will be vaccinated. Resilience is the ability to recover or bounce back from difficult situations and challenges. Resilience is not something we are born with but is a skill that is gained as we learn how to cope with adversity and challenges. How can you and I learn how to be kind and live fully and joyfully in the midst of a pandemic that has turned our entire existence upside down?
Shortly after the Pandemic began, Psychology Today published an article, “Seven Skills of Resilience: Practical Ways to Enhance Well-Being in These Trying Times.” I share them as suggestions for how we can all learn how to be kind in these trying times, for everyone we meet is fighting the same battle.
Principle 1: Cultivate a Belief in Your Ability to Cope
Knowing that there are so many things outside our control, how can we learn how to focus on the resources that we do have? They could include a warm home, a phone, and a computer that provides ready virtual access to family; good neighbors; friends who provide a listening ear; the ability to stay connected with our church by worshipping online and attending virtual Bible studies; eating healthy foods; and getting enough exercise and sleep. Acknowledge that everyone you meet is fighting a great battle and be kind, especially to yourself.
Principle 2: Stay Connected with Sources of Support
Make phone calls. Send emails. Write letters. Do a Zoom Bible study through your church. Maintain contact with your neighbors and friends. Stay in touch with your children and grandchildren.
Principle 3: Talk About What You’re Going Through
Assemble a group of friends who meet regularly. Do a weekly check-in with family members. Talk with your pastor, and if things become more difficult, find a counselor.
Principle 4: Be Helpful to Others
Focusing on others shifts attention away from our own fears and concerns. In our neighborhood, we have connected by taking turns every month providing a soup supper for each other. When we are able to help others, we help ourselves. Pay special attention to those who are the most vulnerable. Reflect God’s love in everything you do.
Principle 5: Activate Positive Emotion
Listen to your favorite music, watch comedy shows that make you laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Take on household projects you would not have time to do in normal times. Use some different recipes. Get out and walk in the woods. Take up a new hobby. Save a turtle. Do the things that give you joy.
Principle 6: Cultivate an Attitude of Survivorship
A positive attitude goes a long way. Yes, we have never experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. But at the same time as we are not completely in control of our circumstances, neither are we completely helpless, either. Many of us underestimate our own power to adapt and thrive in difficult circumstances. It is possible to summon the courage to take a different, unmapped route, and that detour around the destination of despair enables us to push forward. We can survive this!
Principle 7: Seek Meaning
Stay connected with your faith community. Churches as well as individuals can become resilient when we determine that no one will slip through the cracks. Use phone trees to check in with each other. Offer to help others make use of technology so they can worship online at home. Host a weekly virtual gathering of seniors. And, most of all, remind each other to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Thank you for your continued kindness.
[i] Music at Yale, Fall 2020/Winter 2021, p. 11.