Last Saturday, it was my turn to take mom for a weekly ritual that has been in place for well over fifty years. Come what may… good finances, bad finances, babies, toddlers, house guests, hell, high water, it didn’t matter. Once-a-week, Saturday morning, mom was going to get her hair done. Old age has taken so much from her. My siblings and I have determined that there is at least one thing that mom is going to get to keep. On a rotating schedule, one of her kids sojourns to Springfield, Illinois and accompanies her on this well-worn pathway.
Like Fran before him, who retired twenty years ago, mom’s “new” beautician, Richard, enjoys bantering with his clients while he wields scissors, curlers, hairspray and humor. After parking mom under the clamshell dryer, he motioned for me to come over and provide him a bantering partner.
“Remember this?” He placed into my hand two photographs of trees bent by a shimmering coat of thick ice. “Was that the ice storm…1978…or so…?” I guessed. “You got it! ‘78!” Richard enthused. Springfieldians of a certain age all have stories of the famous Holy Week ice-storm over forty-two years ago.
That disaster began about the time that the trees’ springtime sap was moving out into the branches causing buds to form and open. The weather hovered just at the threshold of thirty-two degrees. This allowed a long, slow, several-days rain (but not snow) to drip onto the trees, drip onto the power lines, drip onto the phone lines, and gently freeze, layer upon layer. Boughs, limbs, and whole trees bent and snapped. Sagging, weighty power lines eventually caused stout telephone poles to give way like twigs. The ice took away most of Springfield’s power, and safe access to roads leaving families and whole neighborhoods stranded.
Springfield was in a state of emergency. Stories from that event contain a common thread Ask anyone how they survived and you are likely to hear warm stories of families, and neighbors opening their houses to neighbors. Food that was going to spoil was shared. Fireplaces became gathering places. Silent television sets gave way to candle-lit board games, cards, and conversation. Despite the inconveniences and dangers of that time, the stories told about it cast a glow as if illuminated by that episode’s fireplaces and candles.
This week, something more wide-spread than a weather-front is sweeping through our lives. This time around, the ice is not forming on trees, or powerlines. This time, I notice its internal formation within me. Each time I hear of another “hot spot” that has formed in a city, each time another event or institution is shut down, I feel the icy touch of an unmistakable anxiety form in my chest.
For years I have been drawn to studies, and stories of resilience. For decades now, I have sat across the room listening to clients describe their resilience strategies that have gotten them through every manner of human challenge and tragedy. I have never lived through a pandemic, but I have to believe that the menu of resilience strategies, while altered by the current circumstances, remains largely the same.
It is my aim over the next several weeks to use the pages of this blog to highlight items off of that menu of resilience practices. The Centers for Disease Control offers a solid set of practices to assist us in remaining physically resilient. My hope is that by reflecting upon age-old practices, this blog can humbly assist in retaining emotional and spiritual resilience. Perhaps by reflecting along with my readers, the icy anxiety that comes with our current challenge can melt some.
In that spirit, I want to notice that the CDC is encouraging a thing called, “social distancing.” I also want to be careful to notice that the CDC is notrecommending social isolation. The genius of the human species has always been our ability to come together and support one another. The scientist, Carlo Rovelli, author of Seven BriefLessonsonPhysics, as well as TheOrderofTime, defines the key component of our evolutionary success to be the human ability to love. You read that correctly, based upon scientific research, our key strategy to survive and thrive is our ability to love. The longest psychological study in history, has been the seventy-five year long, Harvard Study. Its most significant finding has been that warm-hearted relationships are the key to resilience.
My mom must have known this as she engaged in her weekly ritual year after year, decade after decade. My mom’s life was blessed in many ways, but like any life of so many years, she has weathered some storms. The icy hand of infidelity reached into her marriage. Heavy layers of alcoholism bent all the branches of her family tree. Eventually, under the weight of it all, her marriage snapped. Like any octogenarian, the chill of death takes one friend after another, including her second husband. Now dementia is robbing her of her memory, but not her humor and warmth. Through all of this, mom has engaged in a self-care ritual that involved human touch, human interaction, conversation, laughter, and clock-work fidelity. Perhaps my mom was something of a resilience researcher in her own right conducting a kind of longitudinal study of her own.
During this time of serious challenge, what are the self-care rituals that have sustained you in the past? Perhaps the CDC’s recommendations will cause you to amend your practice in some regard, but see if you can find a way to engage those rituals that sustain your spiritual and emotional root system.
Above all, find a way to exercise that most human of all resilience strategies. Even if you have to Face-time, or Skype, make sure you find a way to connect warm-heartedly with those significant people in your life. Be sure to exercise that most human, and most divine of all resilience strategies. Be sure to take time to love and be loved.