Monthly Archives: March 2020

Pep Talk #2: Don’t Panic and Always Know Where Your Towel Is*

Laundry Lines

I had a strange dream about ten days ago. Now, I am not a mystic or a prophet, but I am a believer in the miraculous, the existence of a loving God, and the meaning of life (and the answer is not 42!). I am occasionally (when I am paying attention), offered a word of comfort or advice, either through something I read, a song I hear, a conversation with a friend, a circumstance, or, in this case, a dream. It was so significant, and clear, that I got up at 4 in the morning to write it in my journal. Here it is, as best as I can tell it from memory and bad handwriting:

I am trapped in a burning building, somewhere near the top floor, six or seven stories up. Rachel is there with me (my 8-year-old daughter) and a group of strangers of all ages. I smell smoke, see the glow of flames, and look for an exit—blocked by fire. I feel the immediate sense of panic and doom: we are going to die in this burning building. But then I stop and pray out loud, “Lord, help us find a way out.” Despite my fear, I suddenly feel a sense of calm determination. I go out a door and find myself on a balcony, which is still wrapped in sheet plastic from recent construction. I walk to the end of the balcony and find some wooden scaffolding, descending like a spiral staircase—a way out! I know what I have to do.

I go back in the building, where people are beginning to panic, each in his or her own way. Some are screaming, someone is calling 9-1-1, some older ladies are sitting in the middle of the room, frozen in terror. I announce to the room that the building is on fire, that the main exit is blocked, but that I found a way out on the balcony. I tell someone to get everyone out on the balcony, and then I go to the people who aren’t moving, one by one, and speak to them individually: “What’s your name? Doris? Get up, Doris! There’s a fire! Get out of your chair and walk to that door! Go out on the balcony!” I do this for everyone left in the room, and then I go out on the balcony. I wake up as the first of the children, including my own daughter, are climbing down the scaffolding and to safety.

It took me a few days to process the dream and its images. What has stayed with me is the sense of calm-despite-fear. We are living in fearful times, trapped, if you will, in our own kind of burning building. The threat is real—of illness and death, economic disaster, societal breakdown. As a culture, we’ve watched too many horror movies and our imaginations are running wild.

But we do not have to let our emotions run our lives. We can tell them who’s boss and we can tell ourselves the truth. It’s okay to feel fear, but not always helpful to act on fearful feelings. In a dark alley, panic and adrenaline can save your life, but in a protracted emergency, keeping your cool may be a better survival strategy.

If you can calm your mind, breathe deeply, and slow your racing heart, then remember where your help comes from (the encouraging word of a friend, your family, a comforting sacred text, prayer, meditation, yoga, maybe God Himself!), you will be ready for whatever comes next. Perhaps you will be able to offer help instead of feeling helpless. All around you are people feeling panic in their own ways: who can you reach out to individually? Who is in your sphere of influence that might need a pep talk? It’s a good time to reach out by phone, by video chat, or even over the backyard fence, sidewalk, porch, or balcony (as long as the neighbor is 6 feet away!). If you’ve received comfort or encouragement in these tough times, don’t hoard it like toilet paper…pass it on!

*Advice from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Pep Talk #1: When Life Gives You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons

People are beginning to freak out here in Florida. Spring break was rudely interrupted by a global pandemic and vacationers have gone home in droves, leaving things here empty…including the shelves in the toilet-paper aisle. Unless they are facing a hurricane, people here are unaccustomed to seeing empty shelves at the grocery store, and the fear of want becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m hoping we look back at this and laugh at what we thought were emergency provisions, but it’s still too early to tell.

We were not always comfortable and complacent, fragile and fearful. All of us have immigrants in our ancestry—our forebears came to America with little more than the shirts on their backs. Our ancestors were used to discomfort, disease, and death. Faith in God, hard work, and community sustained them and helped them survive—not just the physical hardships of their lives, but the social and emotional ones, too. During many hard times in the last few centuries, people have relied on each other for survival, neighbor helping neighbor—sometimes in the form of churches and charities, but often person-to-person.

I am thinking a lot these days of those who are feeling isolated at home during this time of “social distancing” and quarantines. Aside from the economic repercussions of businesses closing, the cascading effect on families with thousands of children suddenly without the structure of school and extracurricular activities staggers the mind.

I am a homeschool mom of five, living on a sailboat. We make our own power, we desalinate water for drinking. I grind my own grain, I bake my own bread. We have an unusual kind of self-sufficiency in the modern world. I have a unique perspective on what it means to get cabin fever—and I feel sympathetic to all the parents out there who suddenly find themselves in my shoes—at home all day with stir-crazy kids. I chose the hard life of teaching my own children to read and do long-division, of cooking from scratch, of being in a small space with my family. Many of you have been thrust unprepared into this social situation. But you can do it. You can rise to the occasion. You can help your family survive this hard time. And you might even come out better and stronger.

I’m writing a series of pep talks, which you will find here. When you need a reminder to hang in there, or a word of sympathy, because I’ve been where you are (or will be)—crying and calling  a friend from behind the closed bathroom door—I’ll be here. When life gives you lemons, it’s okay to pucker up initially, but eventually you’re going to have to sweeten the sour in order to drink it down.