By: Matt Gordon
Remember that old song about the knee bone connecting to the thigh bone? It placed facts into memorable melody, seeking to teach kids where bones are in the body. It also taught another lesson that is far more philosophical in nature: that we are all connected. Yes, the parts of our bodies attest to this, but in recent weeks we can see this application globally and specifically to our everyday lives. Something in China was born and transmitted and spread. Now that something is in over 115 countries, but it is not merely a matter of health, of course. For the knee bone and thigh bone are forever connected. It is connected to the global economy, to many individuals’ education and jobs; it is connected to our media, to our entertainment, to our sports; it is connected to our psyche, our view of humanity, our spirituality.
These connections are always there under the surface, and seldom does something have the sheer power to expose what lies beneath—the brutal, the ugly, the beautiful and the redemptive.
Yet here we are.
Some think this thing is a hoax—and this is a heart revelation.
Some think this is the end—and this is a heart revelation.
Many are losing sleep—and this is a heart revelation.
Many are making jokes—and this is a heart revelation.
Most are confused. And this is a heart revelation.
This virus is under the microscope and a vaccine is sought. It is likely that in a few months or a year or two, a vaccine will be found. Maybe there is little devastation and it was all overblown? Maybe much of the world will be mourning some loss? We don’t actually know yet and opinions vary. But what we can be assured of is that finding the cure to the illness without assessing how it connects to how we think, feel, and live would be missing the opportunity for a healing of a different kind.
Plagues of bygone ages took many lives. They also served as “forcing functions” to prompt people to consider if there might be better ways to dispose of waste than by hurling it in bucket-loads out the window into the street. Plagues changed how we viewed preventative health behaviors and healthcare in general. Plagues were bad, but they would have been much worse if humans hadn’t the wherewithal to wrench as much good as possible from them.
Whether this is everything or nothing—and, let’s be honest, it is likely neither of those things—we would be wise to leverage good from these troubled times.
Below are some ways I am thinking about my thinking in light of the daunting opportunity before me:
Uncertain times are not new.
Humans are good at pretending we have it all under control. Drive down the road at 50 mph once and just think of how little has to happen for things to go very, very wrong. Yet we don’t think that way—we text and drive! Times have always been and will always be uncertain; we are frail and we are mortal. In all of History, one scholar suggests, there have only been eight days on record where there wasn’t a war being fought somewhere. There is always the threat of sickness, of dictators, of market collapses, of elections gone awry. And then if all of those things weren’t enough, let’s throw in the good old natural disaster for good measure.
And yet, here we are. We persevere, we change, we plod on together marching ever onward toward the land that is promised.
When lightning strikes, we are prone to get so focused on it we forget the storm of yesterday. But the lightning is an old collaborator in our story. It is not new, and neither is this. There is nothing new under the sun. Uncertain times are not new.
Change and the unknown are hard for nearly everyone.
Perhaps media moguls are finding pleasure in all that is going on, but no one else seems to be celebrating disaster. We do not like change—our neurology rebels against even the smallest of alteration in whatever status quo we’ve carved out for ourselves. And now, all at once, without some villain to blame, my work is being threatened. My livelihood challenged. My enjoyments purged. My movements (and coughs) monitored and scrutinized.
My wife feels this way too. And my neighbor. And my coworker. And my dad. And the mechanic in Italy, the shopkeeper in China, the leaders in my company and of my nation and . . .
The fact is that trials (can) create unity. I can give grace to those around me as they process changes and lean on them as I process my own wayward thoughts.
Dubious times produce beauty.
Courage is not a sailboat ride, nothing against sailboats. Courage is wrestling the tempest even when bone-tired. It is fighting the leviathan because death is preferable to a weak surrender to evil. It is doggedly pursuing good even when it is easy to make excuses not to. It is putting the well-being of others even before your own—not by valuing yourself any less but by raising your level of care, concern, and love for those around you. The heroic in us isn’t forged and displayed in times of sweet comfort, but when we’re charging ahead into the bleak cold night.
This is less dramatic than all that, but no less meaningful. How you live when life is wobbly reveals who you are.
Character is tested by passing through the fire.
Let me repeat that last line: How you live when life is wobbly reveals who you are. I never knew how fast I could run until I had a demanding coach with a stopwatch. I don’t get sweaty fighting video game battles. It is easy to be virtuous when everything is roses. But who are we when we feel the thorns of life? When life is demanding or cruel or confusing, do we become demanding or cruel or confusing? I want to know what I believe is true and know that I truly believe it. Like Icarus and the sun, the durability of my own wings can be tested by the heat of the times.
I’m not a hundred percent sure here, but I don’t want to be defined by the times—I think there is a better way. Take Britain in WWII. It was pretty much assumed that Germany was going to bomb every inch of that noble isle. Churchill, their leader (perfect for such a time as this!), gave his first radio address and promised the people: “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” The people responded with vigilance, courage, resolve, and a gritty realistic hope—even if that hope meant to suffer and even die well.
I do not here infer that our moment in history is anywhere close to what that must have been. But the same stuff that comprised Britain’s collective character can make up my reactions and behaviors now. Contrary to the times, I want to be reasonable. I want to be other focused. I want to be kind. I want, and this most of all, to be a person of peace, come what may (or may not).
Anxiety increases emotion, and emotion often is adversarial to wisdom.
Telling anxious people not to be anxious is akin to telling tall people not to be tall. However, a tall person can be shorter by sitting or the short person taller by gaining a footstool. What I am coming round to is that the anxious person can adapt in a few ways. One of these is by finding calming influences. Anxiety can be like a hated drug, but we keep turning on the news anyway to get our fix. Instead, maybe a person who knows and loves you well could deliver the noteworthy updates of the day? Maybe a serving of solitude from the frenetic? Maybe some prayer and meditation? Maybe a walk out-of-doors? A breath. Yes, a breath. We all need a bit of that. Deep, peaceful breaths—probably not in close proximity to our neighbor’s deep, peaceful breaths of course. But as a world, a nation, a community, a workplace, a family, what if we acknowledged the complexity of this moment, how it is inviting us to examine our lives, and breathed deeply together believing the old lines, “It is well with my soul.”
We make bad decisions when we lose control of our emotions. So we should tame the animal within and invite a calm, informed perspective, or abide closely in one who can do that for us.
Remember that old song about the knee bone connecting to the thigh bone? It placed facts into memorable melody, seeking to teach kids where bones are in the body. It actually comes from a spiritual song based on Ezekiel 37:1-14, where there is the picture of a valley of bones. It is all death and despair. The bones, apparently, belong to people who had lost their hope: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” In the passage, God breathes life into the bones, and they get all connected up and they come back to life.
May that be my story in these days. My hope is assuaged on all sides, in ways both important and frivolous—work fears and illness fears and fears that the Blues can’t win the Stanley Cup this year anymore. But will I allow the breath of life to enter? Will I be fused, body and soul, connected to those around me, and return to hope?
“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live,” says the Lord.
Blood. Toil. Tears. Sweat.
Courage. Hope. Love. Peace.