If you've ever experienced the death of a loved-one, you may have also experienced a subsequent deepening of your appreciation for life. This was certainly true for me many years ago when my then mother-in-law died. She had cancer and I watched her health gradually deteriorate over the span of a year and a half. That was the first time I had been intimately involved in the process of dying.
Being part of that process came with many emotions, from fear to anger to helplessness and resignation. When she finally left her body behind, I was filled with the deepest sorrow. I was also grateful that we had so much time together before the end. Plenty of time to share stories. Plenty of time to say I love you. Plenty of time to say goodbye. Not everyone is so fortunate.
Once the initial weight of grief began to loosen its grip on my heart, something unexpected creeped-in to fill the space between tears: an ardent desire to live. I expected to feel loss and sadness, but I did not expect to feel energized and inspired. I did not expect to feel a new and vibrant appreciation for simply existing.
I experienced a similar phenomenon after my divorce. Intertwined with my marriage was my fairly detailed personal life plan. When that relationship became untenable, suddenly that entire plan no longer applied. I was very attached to my plan because it was one thing I could control amidst a lot of other chaos. When it evaporated, I felt unmoored and adrift. So I mourned the loss of both that relationship and the hopes and dreams attached to it.
Once I processed through the initial onslaught of sadness, loss, shame, and failure, a new feeling emerged. A feeling of opportunity. I started to see the potential of the many options available to craft into a new trajectory for my life. Instead of wallowing in the feeling of ungroundedness, I could appreciate the untethered and unfixed condition as an opportunity for growth and redefinition.
Through those significant times of loss in my life, I grew an awareness of something I once took for granted and formed a desire to actively appreciate it instead. With my mother-in-law, it was a reminder to cherish each day I wake up to live on this planet. With my divorce, it was reframing uncertainty about my future into exploration.
This week I find myself wandering through a similar forest of feelings, this time brought on by my full vaccination status. I have always enjoyed in-person interaction and delighted in the physical expression of affection, appreciation, and attention. Now that I can safely interact with some people who also want to interact with me, it’s like I woke up in a whole new world. This pandemic lockdown has nurtured in me a profound appreciation for just being together with another human being.
I have also grown a more full appreciation for the myriad ways humans enjoy connecting. I am a hugger and many of my family and friends are as well, but even before Covid I didn't just hug every person I come across. I like to practice consent and honor body autonomy. I want to hug someone who wants to hug me. And I want to high-five or give a friendly wave to someone who prefers that.
Years ago when I started asking before going in arms-wide for hug, I learned a little something about each person I talked to. And they learned something about me. I got to see them more fully and connect in a more genuine way. That kind of hug is just a little sweeter. And when I high-five someone who doesn’t like hugs, it feels just as loving and connected.
My teacher always says that Taiji tells us we can know something by knowing it's opposite. The pandemic has given us time and opportunity to try expressing ourselves differently. For some people, a shift away from the predominate culture of greeting by touch has been the thing they have been waiting their entire life to experience. For others, the solitude allowed some profound self-connection and reflection (or at least the opportunity to avoid looking at some of those parts of ourselves we'd rather not explore).
I hope from this experience we all grow more practiced at consent in all the areas of our lives. The world needs it. I also hope we continue to appreciate the varied and nuanced methods of human expression in our local communities and around the world. Whatever the part of your Self that grew during the time of Covid, I hope you hold on to it. Just as I hope we can hold on to the societal strides toward justice that have grown stronger over this past year. Carry all those lessons with you as you go on living.
Information and Inspiration
I don't mind hard work. In fact, I quite enjoy putting effort into something. I may not relish every moment of toil, but it is a certain kind of satisfying to get to the end of a challenging process, step back, and take-in the final result. To see the culmination of all that challenge, struggle, and perseverance; a whole and complete thing, crafted with love and skill and sometimes swearing.
And while I don’t mind effort, I do not enjoy when my efforts feel wasted. Last year, we cut down an invasive tree that was attempting to grow half under our porch and right through our sewer line. It’s a tough species to get rid of, so we followed all the gardeners advice and poisoned it’s base for good measure. This week I noticed a brand new baby shoot rising up from the wizened stump. So I dug the whole thing up.
I shifted a substantially heavy rock and dug a 3 foot crater into the earth. To reach the offending tree’s deepest root, I had to first dig out an entire other rootball of some long-since-dead-I-don’t-even-know-what. I dug and pulled and grunted and pushed and almost broke the shovel. Finally, after 45 minutes and a lot of swearing, the evil root gave way and I wrenched it from the earth.
I unceremoniously dumped my giant root nemesis into the city compost bin and filled in the hole. I took a moment to appreciate that after all that mayhem my yard in no way looks like I extracted two cubic feet of hellborne villainy. Covered in dirt and drenched in sweat, I retreated inside for a shower and a well-earned burrito. Here's hoping that tree won't make a miraculous resurgence next year.
I hold a similar hope for avoiding a resurgence of Covid, especially now that the US is poised to re-open just about everything in the wake of the CDC's most recent guidance. I see the current suffering in India, after they had the virus under control just a couple months ago, and I can't help but wonder if we're jumping the gun on public unmasked interaction. It’s been a year of isolation and separation and longing. I don’t want that suffering to have been in vein.
I also don't care about having to wear a mask. I care about doing things and seeing people in-person. I care about getting to leave my house for activities in other locations with humans I both do and do not live with. I care about traveling to visit people I love and exploring interesting places. I will survive wearing a mask in public, even if I have to do it for the rest of my life. I will not survive without in-person interaction with other humans.
I understand the fully-vaxxed portion of the population doesn't want to wait forever to resume regular life. I understand vaxxed folks don't want their social life held hostage by people who don’t want to get their Covid jab. And I don’t want to rush into ruining all the work we’ve done so far. So once you’re vaxxed, go back to work, go back to school, go back to the grocery store. But why not go back in a mask? At least for a little longer.
There is also something extra to wearing a mask in public spaces. It’s more than just protection from the breath of other humans. It’s a physical way to say “I care about all of you out there and I’m considering your health and well-being as I move through the world.” Last summer when tens of thousands of people came out to protest police brutality and racial injustice, everyone wore masks. It felt like a safe place to be both ideologically and physically, which was a welcome respite in those early pandemic days.
We already know that how we conduct ourselves in the world affects the people around us. It’s important to consider all those people when I decide how to act. It feels good to care about my fellow humans. And I want them to know I care. Not because I say so, but because of what I do and how I do it. The pandemic rages-on and the majority of people remain unvaxxed, so I’ll keep my mask on for now. I want this to work. I don’t want to re-do Covid. Once is enough.
Information and Inspiration
This is the 52nd On Humaning essay. The 52nd of something is not a particularly noteworthy milestone, except in this case it happens to also mean one full year of existence. A full year of exploring many of the things that make us human. A full year of sharing a little bit of myself in the hope that others can see a little more of themselves, and from that place see others a little more fully.
Before I started this blog, I thought I needed to write a book. I looked at the world and saw it was hurting. I recognized one of the roots of that hurt is the disconnect people have from themselves and each other. Many of society's ills stem from some humans forgetting certain other humans are people too. Poverty, hunger, housing instability, lack of access to health care and education. We live in a world of abundance, but we pool that bounty in places where it already is instead of spreading it around to everywhere. Many of the haves forget (or have not yet learned) that they only have now because they started out having something.
And I understand why. There are so many opportunities in modern society to avoid self-exploration. There is so much to think about and do outside of our selves. Books to read, movies to see, games to play, products to buy, important people to follow, the entire internet to explore. It's impossible to recognize the humanity of others if you cannot see and feel your own.
Having healed much of my own disconnect, I wanted to offer that healing to the world. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I have at least one. And, as it happens, that one makes some of the other things easier to manage. But I am not so important or well-known that I thought I could simply writing a book and let the medicine I offer to the world spread itself.
If I wanted to do any good at all, I would have to start with something small, nurture it, and see it grow over time. I decided a piece of exploration each week would do well. A recurring reminder that humaning is a process that never ends and requires regular attention. As humans we thrive on consistency and repetition. I am only as skilled as I am today because I have practiced on many days prior.
It has also been important for me to reflect on all these pieces of the human experience from a place of non-authority. I understand what I understand because this is what I have learned so far through my existence on this planet. I didn't arrive with my current understanding or opinions, and I am as unfixed and ever-evolving as everyone and everything else.
I also find tremendous value in remembering that I do not have to be the person to fix everything, even if I am the only one who sees that something is broken. I certainly feel responsible for making an issue known, but that doesn't automatically mean I am also responsible for bringing about the resolution. I may not even be able to make the required adjustment. Or I may not be the right person to lead a particular change.
As someone who has spent a lot of time single-handedly shouldering the weight of collective responsibility, I understand the prospect of letting go control can be quite frightening. Especially over something important. But the things we need to remedy in the world cannot be tackled by individuals alone. It's going to take the whole village.
So I’d like the people in-charge of our systems and institutions to take a step back from trying to control as much as they currently control. I would also like those members of Leadership who act like they have all the best answers to stop that. There are a lot of people at the top of our hierarchies who have been there a long time. Please take a seat and allow some other folks to step-up and shine. Things are not actually going to fall apart if you go somewhere else for a while. Or they will, and then something else will sprout up from the wreckage.
Humans are amazing. We can do just about anything. And we have so far convinced ourselves that people in-charge of things are smarter or more capable than everyone else. They might be true, but I think it's more likely there are millions of smart and capable people everywhere. The people in-charge are just a small sampling. They cannot fix our issues alone. And I don't want them to try. I just want them to fix their part of the mess we're in.
And I want the rest of us to work on our parts. Let's spread the burden and the joy of healing our world together.
Information and Inspiration
All this week I’ve been hearing in the news about decreasing demand for Covid vaccines. All these stories also predict the US won’t reach herd immunity any time soon, if ever. So for a variety of reasons we won’t reach herd immunity anytime soon… We may never reach herd immunity in this country, which means the world may never achieve herd immunity. And that is ridiculous.
Clearly the technology exists to produce the vaccine. There are plenty of supplies from which to produce the vaccine. There are facilities capable of making the vaccine, companies to ship it where it needs to go, and distributors to get it into the hands of medical professionals to administer to populations. So why can't we have herd immunity in America? Because too many people don't want the vaccine.
I can't help but be frustrated by this, even if some of those people have reasonable sounding reasons such as not trusting government or not understanding the science of a new type of vaccine. I also don't trust the government and I also don't fully understand the science. I definitely understand that getting Covid – or giving it to anybody else – is something I want desperately to avoid. So far the vaccines all seem safe and effective. My threshold for buy-in has been met, so I participated. I got my Covid vaccine.
It is possible some of the reluctant folks will come around once they see enough of their peers get the jab. That certainly happens with many things when they first come out. Clothes, technology, food, even kitchen appliances. I bought a Keurig coffee maker only after every one in my extended family had one and told me how great they were.
Unfortunately, that word-of-mouth expansion of acceptance only happens when people share their experience with other people who trust them. It may never happen if folks keep their positive vaccine experience a secret from the rest of their community. Apparently that is exactly what's happening in Greeneville, TN. And if it's happening in one place in America, odds are that it's happening in other places too.
In a New York Times interview, one Greeneville resident shared her wish that people would just avoid the whole subject of the vaccine: "I think it's none of their business. And it's just dividing people." Which I'm sure it is. But avoiding a conversation about it won't bring people together. All that does is avoid a little discomfort and shelter folks from an encounter with a worldview they don't already know and understand.
A person I know went on a trip recently. They flew on a plane with their partner and a friend. While waiting to board, the friend shared their intention to lie about being vaccinated so they could participate in regular life activities without being hassled for avoiding the vaccine. The partner found this disturbing and got in a long argument with the friend. The person I know tried to quell the disagreement. Not because they wanted resolution of the issue at hand, but because they wanted a resolution to their discomfort.
There are some things worth getting uncomfortable. Stopping a person from lying about their health status and thereby putting others at risk is a very good example. Which is exactly why we shouldn’t avoid talking about important things just because they might be controversial genres. Quite the opposite in fact: those controversial topics are exactly what we should be talking about.
It might be uncomfortable, but that feeling is temporary. And discomfort won't cause you any actual harm, no matter how scary it seems. The more you practice, the less alarming it feels to sit with some discomfort. You can take my word for it because I've been practicing this very skill for years. Before I started this work, I spent most of my life maintaining the comfort of the people around me. It didn't make me safe, secure, or healthy. All it did was keep other people comfortable, often at the expense of my own mental or emotional health.
We don’t need to be comfortable in America right now. We need to get rid of Covid. So get your vaccine (unless you can't for medical reasons), and then talk about it. And talk about all the other important things that matter to you or someone you care about. We can have nice things, like food and housing and health care and education. And we can have them for everyone. We just can’t do it if we keep on doing things the same way we have been. And we can't change any of those systems or structures if we don't ever talk about them.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.