A Covid Captive’s Search for Meaning

Writing is a kind of therapy for me. It gives me a chance to sort out thoughts, face my emotions, and define feelings. But this week I find it difficult to write.

I cried as I watched the events on January 6th. Since then, I have watched the news and the talking heads, trying understand it all and find out what will happen next. Just like the pandemic and the vaccine distribution it is all pure confusion.

I have physically felt the distress in my body. It is persistent. I’m scared. 2021 was suppose to be better. I don’t want to be a part of this awful chapter in history. It’s been a week since America’s “Day of Broken Glass”. The context of our lives, our existence is still riddled with chaos making everyday so uncertain. I don’t want my life to be like this. I’ve been looking desperately for some sort of deliverance, some resolution, some encouraging words to share.

I’ve studied enough history to know that there have been many dark times. How did people make it through? I started digging. I looked through my bookshelves to find the words that have helped me in the past. Luckily, these ink and paper friends have been waiting for me patiently. They have sat quietly holding within them important insights that I have highlighted during some of my darkest days.

I found my books from Al-Anon, a branch of AA for families of alcoholics. “The serenity to accept the things I can not change.” I have these words marked in fluorescent colors. They are like the caution signs at construction sites or crime scenes. I know them by heart but they are not enough

I looked back further to The Stoics, a group of philosophers from the 3rd century BC. I discovered them a long time ago at a thrift store in a pile of discount books. They, too, preached letting go of the things that are beyond our power.

I kept going. I poured through a book of Stoic quotes.

“Let us therefore set out whole-heartedly, leaving aside our many distractions and exert ourselves in this single purpose, before we realize too late the swift and unstoppable flight of time and are left behind. As each day arises, welcome it as the very best day of all, and make it your own possession. We must seize what flees.” -Seneca

In a little book I found at a rummage sale, the call to action continued.

Always Act Well The Part That is Given You”

“Although we can’t control which roles that are assigned to us, it must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Where you find yourself and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance.”-Sharon LeBell

The author encourages readers to dive into the roles they have in life, no matter what they are. If you are a teacher, teach. If you can make people laugh, keep doing it. If you are an artist, create. If you are a reader, read. If you like cooking, cook. If you are thinker, ponder. And if you are a writer, write. If you are not sure of your role, your purpose, pursue the tiny spark or interest that makes you happy or just causes you to smile. Don’t be ashamed or distracted or afraid. As Nike once said, “JUST DO IT!”.

The author, Victor Frankl, has been with me since I first visited Poland. He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning telling about his the years in The Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. He believed that a person could find meaning in the most terrible situations. During his time in captivity he knew he needed to keep going. He felt that he had something of valuable to offer the world. He wrote his famous book in his head and when he was released from the camps he put his thoughts on paper and produced a manuscript in nine days. I have included his quotes in my posts before but during these dark days of 2021 his words have an even stronger meaning.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”-Victor Frankl

The distressed feeling in my body is lifting. I must go now, I have things to do.

Copyright @2021 theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

The Sun in the Midst of Darkness

I know when I go off the deep end. I can tell when my soul has crossed over to something numb or, worse yet, into the darkness. The warning signs show themselves in the condition of my house. Bed not made. Clothes on the floor. Dishes, pots, and utensil in a mess on the counter. Mail and stuff piling up on the dining room table. Papers, books, and dirty coffee cups taking over the living room. This “dark night of the soul” happened recently during the tumultuous end days of the 2020 election. I had worked hard on a local election; writing letters to the editor, working as my candidate’s local outreach person, and calling voters on the phone bank. My guy lost. Luckily another person I was rooting for won. But I ended up disgusted with everything and everyone, including myself. The big wide world was out of control, defective, and dysfunctional. It seemed like a very, very bad place to be.

But then something wonderful happened. To me it was a miracle, a gift from the heavens, a reprieve, a lovely shot of relief. All of a sudden in my corner of the world I was blessed with Indian Summer, a wonderful stretch of days filled with sunshine and warm temperatures. It was so unexpected and so generous, an escape sandwiched in between the darkness of human failings and the coming winter. I jumped on it, knowing its value and understanding the need to soak it all up before it was gone.

I walked in my woods everyday, taking in its peace and honesty.

On another day, I took the time to look closer.

The weather offered social distancing outdoors and I headed north to see my friend, Tammy. Tammy who loves beautiful literature, art and the outdoors. She is kind and joyful and has a deep soul. We talked with trust and urgency about all sorts of subjects and the particular issues we were experiencing in our lives. On the hill under the pine trees behind her beautiful house, we created our version of “the red tent”. Just like the women of long ago who came together to get away from the pressures of tribe and culture, we shared our true selves.

Every morning the sunshine came. Another day offered a chance to see another friend, Chris. We have been good friends for decades and arranged to met at a state park on the river to walk and talk. I admire Chris, she is a great cook, gardener, and homemaker. I’ve learned a lot from her over the years.

I took my camera, it always keeps me focused. It is an inexpensive retired “point and shoot” that I purchased used on eBay. I’m set in my ways, it was bought to replace one just like it that was ruined by sand on a windy day at the beach. It is a simple machine, small enough to carry in the tiniest of purses and it accompanies me wherever I go. Like me it is unsophisticated. With its limited options and my limited skills as a photographer, I must work hard to search out the beauty of the world and let its existence produce the quality of my pictures.

On this day as Chris and I walked and talked, I saw something brightly colored, out of place. Nestled in a small hollow in one of the cedars that grow in the park was the word “joy” painted on a rock. Some caring person had created it hoping another person would notice and appreciate it. I did and now it is treasured artifact in my home.

On the last day of Indian Summer 2020, I wondered, should I stay home and get some things done? Or should I hit the road again and see what the day had to offer? I made the right choice.

Everyday the news spoke about the bleak winter ahead that would engulf us with more sickness, death and heart ache. I felt the dread. I knew the warm sunny days would soon be just a dream. The weather became colder and colder and the light of the day grew shorter and shorter. The darkness came. It weighed heavy and we were all tired of it as it went on and on.

I have had other times in my life when I have been overcome by sadness. I remembered a particular time long ago when I thanked someone who helped me get through some very dark days. I give him a quote, carefully mounted and framed,

“In the midst of darkness
I found the sun within myself
.”

I remembered that quote and it continues to remind me that how I experience the world is up to me. The news recently talked of our present battle between fatalism and hope. Somehow, some way, I must continue to choose hope. I must never forget that no matter how great the darkness, the sun will always reappear.

Copyright @2020 The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Finding Joy in Small Spaces

My epiphany came on a winter day when I was feeling sorry for myself. I call those kind of days “fat slug days” because during the cold weather I slowly slither along in my sun deprived paleness lugging around extra pounds from eating too much comfort food. On that particular day, I focused on getting old and how the elderly diminish and wither as they sit home or in nursing homes with their TVs and blurring memories. Sorrow is small, I concluded. And then I thought a little more. So, if sadness is a state of contracting, then joy is expansive. Joy is the outdoors and music and art and dancing and belly laughs. Joy is big! And that is why I travel, to experience the elation of the big wide world.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, road, outdoor and nature

Today I’m 71 and in my twenty-fifth day of “social isolation”. The media makes it clear, over and over again, I’m in the risk category. I just spent a year saving money for an 80 day solo road trip through the American South. It isn’t going to happen. I can’t go now.

The first few days alone were a bit exciting as I prepared my nest, getting organized and doing some problem solving. I busied myself, alternating meanful chores with watching news about the virus. I thought about topics for my blog and all the projects I would do now that I had extra time.

Day three came in with a shock as President Trump stated he thought things would be up in the air until July or August. What? I knew I could do 6 weeks because I had done that while my broken ankle was mending. But anything beyond that I just couldn’t imagine. I contracted, stayed in my pajamas, and watched the terrible news all day. I knew things were bad when I gobbled down double my daily allowance of my homemade muffins. I was sad and I felt small. Writing always makes me feel better but I shrank in doubt. My nagging inner critique suddenly appeared and it shouted me down.

The next day I went immediately to my chair and the TV but luckily there was a bit of light mixed in among all the doom and gloom. An author talked about his experience with social distancing, how he lost his retirement funds in the evaporating stock market, how he couldn’t sleep with his wife anymore because she was a health worker on constant call, and how his college age son was now back home in a state of aimless depression. Then he added more gloom. He pointed out that because of the pandemic and the tremendous effect it is having on the world economy, there is a strong probability that we may never be able to go back to the way we lived before. We have to face that because of circumstances beyond our control, we needed to prepare to cross over to something entirely new. As I listened to him, I knew what he was saying was true. I held my breath hoping he would say something positive. I waited for some sort of “it is bad but” redemption.

It came in his simple words, “We have to step up!” He stated that we will all be faced with a new way of living and will be called upon to make things better by the quality of our individual ways of adapting. We can’t just sit in front of our screens, we must act. I need to act. I have so many things I can do in my isolation. I have a house to organize and drawers and closets to weed out. I can write on my blog, paint, read, learn new skills (youtube can be my school), connect with people on facebook, research local history, etc., etc., etc.

The world situation pulls on me. It wants me to become small. I can feel it as the hours pass. I don’t want to be diminished.

I’m making lists. How crafty my brain is as it makes me forget about the possibilities that excite me.

I’m working on my immune system. ( Youtube, Dr. Eric Berg-“Coronavirus Resistance-Beyond Healthy Eating”) Dr. Berg states that stress is immunosuppressive. Like the author I previously mentioned, he advises us to stay in action, to be productive. He recommends limiting news consumption, taking walks and working constantly to create our own health.

I’m going to devise a daily schedule for myself. I fluctuate between being productive and wasting a lot of time. I knew, when I taught 7 and 8 year olds, that structure and having a plan were essential. I also knew that varying activities kept attention and engagement alive. I guess this retired teacher will be using proven educational tricks on herself.

I’m back to writing. For some reason, I have to write, it keeps me smiling. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the connection I have with those of you who read my stuff. Thank you so very much.

Joy is big, it is expansive. It has nothing to do with time and space. It is about taking action, moving forward and never becoming small. Everyday in our minds, hearts, and souls it can grow bigger and bigger. We all need to keep joy alive.