Everyday Joys during the Summer of 2020

scrabble tile spell out summer on the beach

Regardless of our circumstances, everyone around the world has been affected in some way by the Covid-19 pandemic. The losses and changes are too numerous to count and the number of people who have died is tragic. There’s so much happening right now that is out of our control. 

As I have said to my son many times, “Everyone has challenges. You don’t get to choose what they are, but you do get to choose how to deal with them.”  

Ok, so that was super easy to say when everything was going well, and the challenges were different than they are now. Because right now, it’s incredibly hard for most people to motivate and dig deep to find those strengths that help us deal with all of the uncertainty swirling around this pandemic, the awakening to systemic racism, our present and our future. 

Looking for Inspiration

I’m inspired by the Academy Award-winning movie “Life is Beautiful” with Robert Benigni. He plays a father, who uses his joy and creativity to help protect his son from the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. I’m not comparing this pandemic with the Holocaust, I’m simply looking for inspiration for how to deal with the current challenges.

As a nurse, I have seen more than my fair share of tragedy and in the past felt burned out, angry, and traumatized, but this pandemic and the social upheaval is unlike anything any of us have ever encountered before. I think of myself as pretty resilient and yet, I’m challenged by all the things that are happening right now; it feels like layer upon layer of loss and wave after wave of uncertainty that sap energy and joy. 

As Brené Brown said in one of her first Unlocking Us podcasts, we are all in the midst of an FFT: F’ing First Time or the PG-rated version: TFT: Terrible First Time.  I like that! Thank you Brené for providing a label I can relate to. 

Finding Meaning

It’s easy to feel the weight of all of this and become bogged down or feel so overwhelmed that we just freeze and do nothing.  Well, as tempting as that is, I’ve found that my antidote to depression and to giving up, is to stop and look around, noticing the abundance and beauty in life that surrounds us. This for me is hope, the antidote to throwing in the towel and staying in bed all day. 

When I worked as a nurse in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, PICU, and encountered day after day of tragedy, I kept that near and referred back to his story for explanations and inspiration from Viktor Frankl’s Book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Ahhh, there it was, a written account from a Holocaust survivor, that life indeed does go on. One of my favorite quotes from that book 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

For me in the PICU, that meant changing my perspective, being more in the moment, and noticing the grace in moments when families gave us the gift of being present with them and caring for their sick child. And, it helped me provide the “little things” like brushing someone’s hair, having a frozen popsicle at the ready, a cool cloth for a forehead, a gentle hug, warm smile, favorite foods, a game for distraction and being 100% in the moment, enjoying those experiencees.

Mindfulness and Meditation

As I’ve practiced and practiced mindfulness and meditation, I can honestly say that it is possible to have joy in seeing more birds at the feeder, clearer skies, and noticing the budding trees and spring flowers when I walk. I am grateful for the food in the fridge and pantry and feel inspired by neighbors dropping off hand-sewn masks for providers and front-line workers. When friends drop off bags of groceries for distribution to families without an income, or people dig deep and donate to FAME Hospital in Tanzania, it’s a reminder that we are all connected and yes, we will come through this together.

I am an optimist, and I do sometimes notice that the worst comes out in some of us, some of the time, and yet the best is also on display.

So, every morning, I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that I am lucky. I am grateful to be here, breathing, and healthy. I love so many people and feel loved in return. Then I settle into a guided meditation or mindfulness, which is how I practice being 100% present and try to breathe into the moment, hopefully being less reactive and more thoughtful.

Some moments are much more difficult than others, from helping my nephew with hospice care for his terminally ill father to providing support to a friend whose child has Covid-19 and is in the ER all alone. I have to remind myself to breathe, to keep living my life with the values that I believe in. Being kind, empathetic, and supportive. Keep breathing, even though the feelings are difficult and the uncertainty is unnerving. Some things in life are and should be difficult and it’s ok. It’s ok to feel them and let them wash over you, not judge yourself, but be as kind to yourself as you are to others. 

And some moments are joyful just because they are ordinary and don’t have to be over the top or be social media worthy to be lovely and full of life. From tasting the sweetness of spring strawberries and walking along a path, to showing a newly pregnant mom her baby on an ultrasound and talking to my son on the phone. 

What are you doing to find and savor everyday joys?