Resilience and Resistance

[Much of this content is “borrowed” from The Rev. Schuyler Vogel (minister of Fourth Universalist in New York City), UU World Fall 2015, “Retaining Our Humanity.”]

They say that two thirds of every person in the US will get sick with COVID-19. Not all of us will die; most will recover. Yet, the death rate could be as high as one out of every thirty-three. I know that a few of you know someone who is sick; even a few of you know someone who has already died. What does it take to not be scared, frightened for yourself, for your loved ones in the midst of such knowing and such odds? What does it take to not feel like a “poor, wayfaring stranger”… longing for the place where “there is no sickness, toil, nor danger?”

It takes resilience, a tenacity of the spirit. It takes the kind of courage and patience that doggedly learns a new way of behavior, making the best of this new “normal.” And then when the pandemic is on the wane, doing all we can to resist the fantasy that we can go back to the way things were. 

We are being forced to change our lives right now. We must choose to change our lives for the hoped-for future to arrive.

Can you remember a time in the “old normal” maybe just a few weeks ago, when you may have been sitting at a coffee shop, or at home with the window open and all of a sudden you heard what sounded like a gunshot, followed by sirens? Did your ears perk up for a minute? How long did it take for you to go back to what you were doing? Before you did, did you notice what the people around you were doing? Was there any sort of acknowledgement that something dramatic and maybe life-changing was happening just down the block from where you sat? 

Probably not. 

We used to not let our own pursuit of comfort and our carefully maintained sense of safety dissuade us from our daily routines. 

But that sense of daily routine has all been shattered for many of us.  Of course, not for all of us, as there are still folks in our nation who aren’t practicing social distancing, or who think none of us will need to practice it much longer. 

I am sure one’s sense of things depends on how close one is to the reality of infection.

If you live with a first responder or a health care worker, if you have lost your income or a loved one, you will have a vastly different perspective than those under a state-imposed stay-at-home mandate who are following that mandate, but haven’t really experienced any hardship first hand. And even further from the reality of the infection are those who believe it isn’t going to touch them at all.

So many on this planet have been living isolated, desensitized lives. We know something awful is happening way over there, or sometimes just down the block, but it doesn’t affect our lives. It is time to understand that this pandemic, that global warming, that the gap between the haves and the have-nots, is affecting and will affect all of us. It is time for more of us to be wise and realistic. We can no longer assume that we are safe. We can no longer trust false hopes of returning to “normal.” 

What we can do is build up our resiliency. I mean do what it takes to not give up; do what it takes to have the kind of tenacious spirit that not only allows us to weather the emotional and physical challenges we are facing, but to resist the easy fix that ignores the reality of what brought us to this point.

To be resilient, you cannot change your sense of how the world could be, ruled by love and equity. But we must accept how out of balance things are now, in order to have the kind of wisdom that will teach us what to do next.

The kind of tenacious, strong, resilient spirit I am talking about is the one that chooses the hard road over the easy one, that stays true to ourselves and our values, that is able to sit in discomfort.

I think a lot of us are getting familiar with sitting with discomfort right about now. We can do this longer. We are adaptable. And we can seize this opportunity to make changes, to bring about the big and little adjustments that need to be made. 

If we stick to our core values, which have to do with insisting on the  inherent worth and dignity of every person, the value of the democratic process, and the pursuit of world peace and  justice, we can live into this period of what might be called a  “blessed unrest.”

“Ralph Waldo Emerson said that ‘only so far as people are unsettled is there any hope….’ There is something sacred in… feeling uncomfortable. The unease serves as a bell of awareness, ringing alarm that the world is not as it should be.”

Being spiritually resilient means staying strong, and letting ourselves sit in this discomfort—even, or especially, when it leads us to believe or act in a way that starts a revolution…

When I was a chaplain in a hospital with a Level One Trauma Center, part of my role was to be with families when the doctors said, “We did everything we could… and your loved one didn’t make it.” Many of the more experienced docs stayed in the room with these families long enough to make sure they understood that their loved one was gone. Sometimes the interns would deliver the death notice and hurriedly leave. Either way, I would stay to help the family really HEAR the truth, feel the truth, process the reality of the truth: they are gone.

I am going to join so many of my colleagues in both saying to you the doctor’s message and being by your side as you process the message. The truth is we aren’t going to return to the way things were. This is the new normal and there will be more “new normals.” This is your opportunity to use the blessed unrest that you feel not only to practice resilience, but to gain the strength you need to resist the dehumanizing forces that are asking you to think only of your family, only of your groceries, only of your job…your safety, your comfort. 

We are all in this together. The weight of it all is a heavy load to shoulder. But together we will. It is our togetherness that will make all the difference.

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