I’m gonna tell you something I often have trouble admitting. I’m scared. I’m telling you this because you might be scared, too. In a matter of days, Coronavius has brought our world –as in the entire globe–to a stand still. Many of us have elderly loved ones living in isolation. Many of us have children at home who we are now in charge of educating. Many of us have no idea if our jobs will survive this crisis. Some of us already have that answer and are quarantined at home, unable to focus on getting a new job.
And even worse, some people we love are getting sick with the virus, some are dying from it. Meanwhile, some of our loved ones are on the front lines, treating the sick, searching for a cure, making sure grocery shelves are stocked, driving medical supplies across the country into highly contagious areas, and more.
One way or another, this is a life changing event. For all of us.
Just five years ago, I was in the midst of another life changing event. I found myself inside a NICU at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. My precious nephew, born extremely premature, died at just three days old. Our family was grief stricken, completely crushed.
With any death, there is paperwork and planning that must be taken care of. And so I found myself standing in line at the hospital, waiting to fill out some forms. As others stood in line before me and I waited my turn, I just zoned out and prayed. Standing in line, no matter how long, no matter how much it used to irritate me, didn’t seem like a big deal at all– not after what we had just been through. As I prayed and wondered how we would ever heal ourselves emotionally, suddenly something got my attention, snapped me back to reality. I looked up towards the receptionist I was waiting to speak to.
“Sir,” she said to the man she was helping. “Excuse me one minute. I’ll be right back.” Her tone was kind, but it was firm. The kind of tone you don’t question.
She stood up. She walked around the desk and walked towards me. Her arms stretched farther and farther apart with every step. She stood in front of me and looked me in the eyes. “Honey,” she said. “I don’t know what is going on. But come here. It’ll be okay.” She pulled me into an embrace . . . a complete stranger. And I put my head on her shoulder and cried like she was an old family friend. I mean I cried so hard my body shook. My pitiful groan echoed through the halls. And this woman just held me tight and let me cry. Then I dried my eyes, I thanked her, and I carried on. Her kindness, her compassion gave me the strength I needed.
This death was life changing. Utterly, completely life changing. In addition to being overcome with worry and sadness for brother and his wife, I had to process my own grief. This process changed my trajectory. Life was suddenly inescapably short. What dreams had I put on hold? Who did I love most in this world? Did they know? What were my priorities? What was I truly grateful for? Answering these questions was not a smooth or graceful process. Parts of it were terrifying. But, along the way and in addition to answering my own questions, I learned something else. And that lesson goes back to the very thing that extraordinary hospital receptionist taught me: look for the people who seem sad or worried or scared, and do something about it. Reach out.
The truth is we are not promised a moment, so this one better count. And not in terms of accomplishment, either. Instead, we can make this moment count by making a meaningful contribution. That can look like a lot of different things, but it most certainly means a focus on loving others, helping others, and serving others. And that’s why today, in the midst of running through the list of worries encircling my waking moments, that’s why I thought about you.
I thought about telling you that I am scared because you must be, too. Here I am, walking towards you, my arms open wide. I may not be able to hug you in person or look you in the eye and really listen. But I can tell you that you are not alone. And I can feel less alone, too.
This life changing event is shaping us. Just as the death of my nephew and the kindness of a stranger shaped me.
Will we become the person who lets other people know how much we love them, how much they mean to us? Will we show a complete stranger compassion? Will we look at our lives and take in how precious each moment is? How will this shift and shape our trajectory? Then, there are even more basic questions: How will we ever heal from the loss of loved ones? How can I feed my family? What if my parents don’t survive this? These questions are part of our lives now.
While you answer your set of questions and I answer mine, just know, you are not alone.
P.S. There are two books that have really helped me process grief (something we are all experiencing now) and major life changes. One is Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. The other book is Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Do YOU have books you would add to this list? If so, please comment below!
P.P.S. In just a few weeks, my debut picture book will hit bookstores everywhere. I can’t think of a better moment to introduce you to a brave hero who courageously saved the words that built America. I am talking about the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and more. This man’s TRUE and long forgotten actions inspired me to be brave during a tough time in my life and I hope they’ll inspire you! You can pre-order now. All pre-orders through PRINT: A Bookstore will be entered to win a signed bundle of all four of my books!