2020 Mid-Year Report Card

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” (Maya Angelou)

We’re halfway through what will undoubtedly be one of the most significant years of our lifetime. It’s certainly not the year anyone was expecting. This seems like a good time to engage in a bit of introspection and self-evaluation, a “report card,” if you will.

Tom Bodett once said, “The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

What lessons have we learned over these last six months? How have we been tested? Individually and collectively, are we passing, or has our failure been illuminated? Let’s take a few moments to think about the classes we’ve all been enrolled in, and how capably we’ve faced the tests they’ve put before us.

Our first mandatory subject came to us in March, Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Coronavirus. Try to imagine what it would have been like if, in high school, you had progressed directly from freshman algebra into advanced calculus. That’s pretty much what happened about four months ago. But, instead of suddenly facing differential equations, multilinear functions, and finite-dimensional vector spaces, you are tasked with navigating a world in which “normal” has been replaced by invisible hazards, ceaseless anxiety, and a rapidly-spreading pandemic.

Then, in May, a new class was added, 21st Century American History. This one has a twist: it’s history in the making, and we are more than mere students and observers—we are the history-makers. The curriculum for those of us with white skin and white privilege is to look around and look within and assess whether as a country and as individuals, we are the best we can be. Many of us took the pretest and saw that we’ve been failing for a long time, in ways both obvious and subtle. The pledge of liberty and justice for all is, at best, provisional. It’s time to do some remedial and hard work. Continue reading

Querencia and Friluftsliv: Two Concepts to Guide Us Through a Pandemic

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” (Jean Shinoda Bolen)

It’s been two months since the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus to be a worldwide pandemic. By now, disbelief has given way to acceptance and adaptation for most of us. Depending on where you live you may be living under a quarantine or you may be cautiously venturing back into a limited social environment.

Most of us have accepted that our world has changed and the post-pandemic atmosphere is likely to be very different. Just what those differences will be remain a mystery, but it’s a sure bet that some will be devastating and some will be hopeful. That uncertainty is creating a lot of apprehension. I’m finding two concepts that go a long way toward easing COVID-19 anxiety.

I first wrote about querencia back in early 2017. It’s a concept that has become abundantly relevant in these days of fear, isolation, and uncertainty. Continue reading

Hello in There, Redux….

Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

~John Prine, Angel from Montgomery

John Prine, Wikimedia Commons

I was saddened to learn this morning that the great John Prine died yesterday, another casualty of the coronavirus. I have loved John Prine’s music since I was a teenager. His voice is as piercing as his lyrics, illustrating why Rolling Stone proclaimed him “the Mark Twain of American songwriting.”

I wanted to link back to a post I wrote in 2016, which talked about my very favorite Prine song, “Hello in There.” It describes the isolation so many elderly people feel in our society, and it’s particularly poignant today, in the midst of COVID-19, as isolation confronts us all in different ways. I hope you’ll follow the link and listen to Prine’s song and then think about who in your life, or in your neighborhood, could use a “hello” from you.

Thank you, John Prine, for your songs and your spirit. https://ayearoflivingkindly.com/2016/08/18/hello-in-there-hello/

 

Hit the Reset Button

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” (Marcel Proust)

I’m not big on making New Year resolutions (What’s she talking about, Leonard? Doesn’t she know it’s nearly April?). But what I do try to do at the beginning of each year is think about who I want to be, what I hope will be different, and what I want my life to look like at the end of the year. Then, I set my monthly, weekly, and daily intentions with that vision in mind.

It’s very organized and kind of nerdy (and maybe a tiny bit OCD). It works for me.

But, here at the end of March, 2020—a month during which the world changed in ways that were unimaginable a short time agoI find it’s time to rethink my priorities and reset my intentions for the emerging brave new world (which, I hope, will not resemble the one imagined by Aldous Huxley).

I wonder, as we hunker down—giving colossal thanks to those on the front lines who cannot hunker—if it would be healthy and wise to take some time to think about who we will be and what the world may look like once the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. Continue reading

Go Out and Make Some Memories

“Kindness causes us to learn, and to forget, many things” (Anne-Sophie Swetchine)

I’ve always been fascinated by memory. How my husband remembers incidents I don’t recall at all, how I’ll remember something that is completely absent in his memory, and how we may both remember an episode from our shared past, but remember it so differently that we question the other’s sanity.

As I age, I wonder why I still recall embarrassing moments from grade school, but don’t remember why I got up from my desk and walked into the kitchen.

Scientists are always sharing new bits of information about memory. So, of course, I sat up and took notice when I saw a new study showing that we are made happier and healthier by recalling our own acts of kindness.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, conducted a three-day experiment in which they randomly assigned undergraduates to one of four tasks: 1) performing acts of kindness; 2) recalling acts of kindness they had performed in the past; 3) both performing and recalling acts of kindness; and 4) neither performing nor recalling acts of kindness.

Their findings revealed that study participants in groups 1, 2, and 3 all reported an increase in their well-being: greater life satisfaction and positive feelings, and a decrease in negative feelings. It didn’t matter whether they performed acts of kindness, recalled acts of kindness, or did both—all experienced the same level of enduring and stable happiness and satisfaction. Continue reading