When record-breaking fires recently draped the Bay Area in a layer of yellow-gray ash or an apocalyptic orange glow, I often fixated on light. I would peer outside to check the latest color hue and reminisce about my latest nature outing. Each temporary reprieve in the winds would have to tide me over till the next safe air day. With the relentless fire storms raging over the West Coast in the fall of 2020, days already disrupted by the pandemic became even more disorienting. I went from scanning the latest Covid cases statistics for my county to searching the latest air quality index. After firefighters successfully extinguished the fires in my county, I never wanted to lose appreciation for clear breathable air and sun-dappled days.
Adding Flames to the Fire
Like those who have experienced extended illness or loss, I treasured the light most after spending time in the darkness. Even without life-shattering events, our mind can easily turn to a dark place. Our minds reel from climate change and pandemic concerns to racial inequalities and political strife. It is easy to become overwhelmed and lose our sense of security. We can feel unsettled from Covid restrictions, health concerns, job changes, extended lockdowns, and social distancing. But with additional stressors continually added to the mix, we have to be more intentional than ever about finding sources of light and bringing the joy back into life.
Recently I met a couple in Monterey who had retreated from a mandatory fire and windstorm evacuation in Napa Valley. Only to arrive into town during a massive Trump Rally. Already traumatized over the uncertainty of whether their home would still be standing, they now feared potential political violence. I assured them the honking drivers appeared harmless and on their way out of town. And I reminded them to have a relaxing time. We can so easily let others steal our joy.
Nothing derailed me more than a season where sadness once inexplicably filled my soul. Like a smoldering fire, it snuck up on me as stressors steadily piled up, until the dark clouds suddenly turned everything black. None of my normal activities gave me joy- not even my photography hobby, nature escapes or time with friends. I have since become more diligent about protecting my emotional health and finding outlets to brighten my day. We cannot let life’s demands or busyness prevent us from prioritizing self-care, or else our mind and body- and our families- will undoubtedly suffer.
Through past seasons of recovering from various afflictions, I have learned to embrace the silence and solitude of sequestering at home. And I resist the urge to allow my days to become just as packed as before. I refrain from simply exchanging one activity for another, in my quest to feel validated and productive. And I find contentment in simply feeling the earth beneath my feet and the sun on my face.
Learning to Just Be
For a few years, I directed the same intensity to my fitness activities that I had once applied to work. However, forced isolation, poor air quality, and cancelled activities caused me to spend more time just being and less time achieving. Now that Covid restrictions are slowly being lifted, I put more thought into what I wanted to add back in. I give myself more space to indulge in a book, tend to my garden, or tidy up my house.
The other day, I curled up with a book and discovered the lamp bulb was burnt out, so I replaced it- only to discover the cord was not plugged in. It reminded me of how we will stay in darkness if we are not connected to a source of hope and light.
Bringing Back the Light
One of the ways that draws me back to the light is to connect with my spiritual roots. I have not felt the same personal connection watching sermons on my TV screen. Podcasts somehow resonated with me more, as the voice coming through my earbuds felt more intimate and directed to me. Or perhaps it was the old hymns in the podcast that brought me back to my past, and provided comfort when nothing else felt the same.
Comfort can come where we least expect it, if we open our hearts to God’s voice. In attempting to visit a particular church service with my friend, years ago, we accidentally strolled into a different one. It was the wrong building, but the right message. Initially I did not think I could relate to it, as the priest spoke about addiction. I have never consumed substances, but I had allowed other substitutions to fill my life and pull me away from God. We can possess any number of addictions, from busyness to technology, to even hobbies. Even a relentless quest for self-care can become a form of idolatry if we neglect our spiritual side.
Finding New Meaning
How do people survive without hope or health, without community or a place to call home? What meaning do people find when they have lost so much? I think of a musician, Jasen Becker paralyzed and rendered speechless due to ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He found meaning in composing songs through tapping his eyes. And he remarked to a reporter, “I like my life.” Despite losing his life dream at age 18, he found other ways to invent himself. He forged a new identity. And found more contentment than those those who have it all. I think of all those who remain indoors, not only from Covid or polluted air, but chronic illness and confining conditions. And I pray that they, too, find ways to lead purposeful lives. I hope that their horizons will continue to expand in whatever limited environment they find themselves in.
When the virus is under control, and vaccines become commonplace, I hope the homebound will continue to have access to additional services. Initially, during Covid we heard continual messages of “We are here for you; you are not alone.” How can we be the light to the isolated or the imprisoned year-round?
Recently my father reached out to me and my siblings about what verse he should put on my mother’s tombstone- another task delayed due to Covid. Of the many scriptures that came to mind, we kept returning to the scripture of their wedding day: Psalm 121: 1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Where does your help and your hope come from?