For the next five months, we will be in a liminal space to beat all liminal spaces. We are between the large spaces of the Before Times and the Post-Pandemic Times, and we are also between the small spaces of the Pandemic Time and the Recovery Time.
We are not yet in the recovery time. The recovery time will (I hope) look similar to the Before Times, in that we will be able to go to church, children will go to school, etc. In Recovery Time, things will look "normal," but they won't yet feel normal. It will take time. It will require meaningful ritual and spiritual practices, to help us to make sense of all that we've experienced and to chart a new course.
The next five months are the in-between. They are transition time.
Transition is ... well, uncomfortable is the word often used, but really, we need a better word. Something that encompasses discomfort, irritability, our brains not really working well. I would like to go to a metaphor that everyone has experienced, but working from my own experience and what I've seen in others, I think this is so apt, that I will go with it -- the transition stage of childbirth. (I will speak from my own experience and what I've seen in some friends.) It's the stage right before the active pushing of birth. It can be painful, yes, but it's something else in addition. It's often the stage when the person giving birth wants to say that they've changed their mind, forget this, they're going home. It's often characterized as the most difficult stage of labor, and the time when doubt in one's ability to do the task ahead creeps in.
We have so many dynamics at work right now, friends. Third quarter syndrome, societal regression, the predictable Disillusionment/Reconstruction phases of disaster. Our psychology is often not logical.
It's my opinion that whether we are talking about our personal lives, work, church, or society, that we need to keep coming back to this question: Am I operating from my best thinking or from my feelings?
Speaking only for myself: I ain't gonna trust my feelings right now. Because those puppies are ALL OVER THE PLACE.
Not only are feelings all over the place, but so are our experiences. We've been in the same ocean, but not the same boat, not by a long shot. I know retired people who can talk about how the pandemic has given them more time with their spouse, they've fallen in love again, and adjusted to a slower, more peaceful life. I know others, particularly those with full-time jobs, and school-age children, for whom the past year has been an unrelenting nightmare, where they wake up in morning and want to cry at having to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I know some who live alone who have experienced a deeper feeling of isolation and vulnerability than they've ever known. And some who have relished this time with few obligations, and endless time to enjoy new hobbies, or to dream new dreams. (Don't even get me started on those who have been in a politically-induced state of denial over all of this.)
Along with having different pandemic experiences, we are not all in the same place right now. Some of that is literal - some people are living in areas where the rate of infection is dropping, while in others, it is rising, alarmingly. Some people have had both shots and already passed "Freedom Day," that magical day 2 weeks after your second dose. Children haven't had any of this. Many adults under 50 haven't had even their first shot. We have different comfort levels with risk. Some of those who have passed Freedom Day are ready to kick up their heels and get back to normal, which means they want everything else -- recreation centers, churches, restaurants, music venues -- to get back to normal, too.
What this mean for collectives, whether it is families, churches, community organizations, or whole societies: a whole lot of MESSY. Imagine a giant pot, boiling over with resentment, confusion, defensiveness, anxiety.
Anxiety for miles.
But understanding the forces at work in our own minds, means we have the opportunity to get through the next 5 months with a minimal amount of damage to relationships and institutions.
1. Understand that when we get anxious, when our amygdala gets stirred up, we stop using our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is used for logic and reason. Learn to identify the feeling of anxiety in yourself - how does it show up? Tense shoulders, churning stomach? When it shows up, at least allow yourself to consider that maybe your thinking is not as clear as you think it is.
2. Remember that our experience is not universal. We've each had different experiences.
3. When we begin feeling judgmental about others ... just stop. Seriously, save judgment for some other time. The only person you can change is you, anyway. Focus on that.
4. Be deliberate about kindness. In all our interactions. With neighbors. Co-workers. Family members. Friends. Service vendors. For the next 5 months, we need more kindness and grace. Make that the first priority.
5. Always come back, with self-honesty and humility to the question: Am I operating from my best thinking or from my feelings?
Our feelings are puppies, and not just the cute kind, but the crying, peeing, nipping, yipping kind. They're going to be all over the place. They are not always to be trusted.
Principled, clear thinking will help us get through this.