Staff Columnist

In uncertain times, control what you can: Yourself

AP Illustration of masks by Peter Hamlin
AP Illustration of masks by Peter Hamlin

I’m trying, as many of us are these days, to learn to appreciate sitting with stillness. To take the uncertainty and fear of this pandemic and economic downturn and climate crisis and political turmoil and not let them consume me.

It is not easy to sit still in the face of worries and problems. When we have a crisis like a flood, we all turn out of our homes to sandbag and move people and businesses out of their buildings and do our part to hold back the water.

This is not that kind of crisis. This is a crisis that demands the opposite; to sit, and wait, and give the scientists time to do their work and find us a medical breakthrough. There’s no sandbag to hold back a virus.

I am lucky; I know this. No one I love is sick, or has died. I have friends who have not been so lucky. I still have a job; I get paid to write words like these, and to tell the stories of my community, which is a privilege and honor for which I’m continuously grateful. I can work from home, for the most part, remaining safe behind my keyboard. I am lucky.

Still, the worry, that my luck will run out, that the luck of those I love will run out, lingers. The worry is also larger, more existential: What will our society look like when this is over? What will happen if we don’t find a vaccine soon? What will fall bring, when children are back in school and we move indoors and can no longer see each other safely even at small outdoor gatherings? When winter comes and the sun sets earlier and earlier and the cold seeps into our homes and bodies? How will we bear the season?

With time and untreated, fear that lingers like that can fester, turn ugly. I see it turning ugly in the way people move from calls that “We’re all in this together” to attacks on each other. I see it turning ugly in myself, too.

So I’m trying to let the fear go. I’m trying to let the worries present themselves, be examined and be released.

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I don’t really know how to do this. If you know how to do this, you are blessed and probably could have a successful career as a self-help guru or TV talk show host.

But I’m trying. I work in my garden, pulling weeds. Any gardener will tell you the heat and rain and good soil that bring the summer blessings of bright red tomatoes and hot peppers also bring an ever-growing abundance of weeds. It can feel like a never-ending task; indeed, by its very nature, that’s what it is. But I take solace in it, because even though I know it’s never ending, it lets me bring a modicum of control to my small corner of the universe. I can’t control very much in this world, but I can bring order to the chaos of my vegetable patch, at least for today. If I left it behind tomorrow, the weeds would spring up and take over. But for now, one day at a time, I can do something about them.

I’m trying to bring that philosophy to my daily life as well. I cannot control what happens this fall or winter. I cannot control where or when the virus will flare up again. I cannot control the policy makers and their plans, or lack thereof, for testing and tracing and prevention efforts. I can’t make a vaccine come any faster, or persuade others to take it when it arrives.

All I can control is myself, and maybe gently influence a few people I love. I can wear my own mask whenever I go out, even if others will not. I can make sure I am safe, and know that those efforts are helping to keep my community safe by extension. I can vote; I’m waiting for my absentee ballot now. As a journalist and a citizen, I can keep asking questions and working in what small ways I can to contribute to my community. All our actions may be drops in a bucket, but with enough drops the bucket fills, and tips, and change happens.

But I can’t control the flood, so I’m trying to just sit here, on my porch, and breathe, and take it one day at a time.

And after I file this column, I’m headed back to pull a few more weeds.

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