Mother Nature — Who Is She, Really?

I HAVE SPENT A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT MOTHER NATURE

I have spent a lot of time thinking about Mother Nature, especially lately, and wondering about the relationship between God and Nature. I’ve never blamed God for bad things, even when I had breast cancer. In fact, when I attended a support group and found out it was called Why Me? I thought, “Why not me?”

This COVID-19 pandemic gives one pause and makes me want to understand how the world works when one believes in a caring God.

Coronavirus Resource Center - Harvard Health
coronavirus

In his May 19th Opinion piece in The New York Times, Tom Friedman describes Mother Nature as “just chemistry, biology and physics… Mother Nature is not only all powerful, she’s also unfeeling. Unlike that merciful God that most humans worship, Mother Nature doesn’t keep score. She can inflict her virus on your grandmother on Monday and blow down your house with a tornado on Wednesday and come back on Friday and flood your basement. She can hit you in the spring, give you a warm hug in summer and hammer you in the fall.“As such, telling her that you’re fed up with being locked down — that it’s enough already! — doesn’t actually register with her.”

I recently listened to a sermon by an Episcopal priest in which the priest, in discussing the Trinity, compared God the Father to Mother Nature. Well, I can’t buy that. No, I believe in a God who created us and Mother Nature. I believe God cares, that telling God you’re fed up does register, and that helps me accept the current situation and turn to God for solace, even as the world is running amok.

C.S. Lewis, the British writer and lay theologian, in his 1948 essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age,” put it this way: “What, then, is Nature, and how do we come to be imprisoned in a system so alien to us? Oddly enough, the question becomes much less sinister the moment one realizes that Nature is not all. Mistaken for our mother, she is terrifying and even abominable. But if she is only our sister – if she and we have a common Creator – if she is our sparring partner – then the situation is quite tolerable.”

Of course, Lewis is talking hypothetically about the atomic bomb; we are living with a virus that is actually killing people all over the world by the thousands. So the situation is not “quite tolerable” for the many who are suffering and those who love them.

But still, if we listen to Lewis’s words and substitute COVID-19 for the atomic bomb, our situation can be seen in a new light: “Do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb (COVID-19) was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways… It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb (COVID-19), let that bomb (coronavirus) when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children… not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs (viruses). They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

C.S. Lewis on Pornography and Masturbation
C.S. Lewis

I am convinced that fear lowers your resistance. I’m also convinced that thinking and talking about bad things gives them power and contributes to that fear. I’m taking COVID-19 seriously. I’m wearing a face mask when it’s appropriate and I’m practicing social distancing. But I’m not going to let it dominate my mind. I’m going to continue to do “sensible and human things.”

And I hope and pray that you will, too.

Now’s a Good Time

it’s crazy, but it’s true

It’s crazy, but it’s true. Despite the hardships many are facing, others are finding they have more money than usual and more time.  

Twice this week I’ve heard from friends who recently have done something creative and generous.

My friend Julia discovered that she has extra money since she began staying home. She’s decided to buy a new bed she needs and give a nice gift each month to causes she cares about. She is filled with excitement by the prospect of being a donor, as she has been living very carefully for some time.

My friends Dave and Dancy have been cleaning out and remodeling their garage. Dave, a talented finish carpenter, has built a fantastic area for Dancy, who is a gardener and flower arranger extraordinaire. She now has shelves and drawers for gardening tools, vases, etc. And instead of putting the 14 vases she no longer needs in a Goodwill bin, Dancy  made 14 arrangements with flowers from her garden and put them on a community table for the neighbors, with a sign that said, “Please take an arrangement and enjoy!”

And here’s another example: Several of the women in my Dining for Women chapter received stimulus checks, which they felt were unnecessary. They’re donating the money to our local food bank.

These stories remind me of a book I read years ago by Lynne Twist, called The Soul of Money. In it, Twist describes a life-changing experience in Harlem, in the basement of an old church with a leaky roof. She was a new fundraiser for The Hunger Project and had been asked to speak at a fundraiser at the church. Twist, who is white, says, “I looked out at the audience, and I knew that the people sitting there did not have much money to give. I spoke to them about The Hunger Project’s commitment to Africa, as I thought it would be the most relevant to their own lives and their heritage. When it came time to ask for donations, my palms were sweating and I began to wonder if it was the right thing to do. I went ahead and made the request, and the room fell absolutely silent.

“After what seemed like a long silent pause, a woman stood up. She was sitting on the aisle in a row near the back. She was in her late sixties or early seventies, and she had gray hair parted down the middle and swept up into a tidy bun. When she stood up she was tall, slender, erect, and proud.

“’Girl,” she said, ‘My name is Gertrude and I like what you’ve said and I like you. Now, I ain’t got no checkbook and I ain’t got no credit cards. To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks it rushes through their life like a raging river. Money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It’s also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman’s wash and I want to give it to you.’”

Twist goes on to say, “It’s my experience that money is an inanimate object that we made up, and it has no power or authority other than what we assign to it. I see money as being a little bit like water. When water is moving and flowing, it cleanses, it purifies, it makes things green, it creates growth, it’s beautiful. But when it slows down, starts to sludge, and is still, it becomes toxic and stagnant.  One of my missions in this lifetime,” she says, “is to enable people to keep money flowing and to assign money to fulfill their highest commitments and to send it off into the world with love, with voice, with vision.”

Now is a great time, if you’re one of the lucky ones, to assign your money to fulfill your highest commitment, and to sent it off into this troubled world with love.

Let me know how it goes.

Backstories: I Make Them Up for Real People

I JUST READ “A MAN CALLED OVE,” BY FREDRIK BACKMAN.

I just read A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. It’s a wonderful novel about the grouchiest, rudest, most stubborn person you can imagine. His name is Ove (he’s Swedish), and as you follow him on his daily reconnaissance walks through the neighborhood, you learn things about him that help you understand his behavior. Turns out, Ove has had many disappointments in his life, starting with the death of his mother when he was seven years old. As his life unfolds in rhythm with the story, you begin to  understand his behavior and your heart goes out to him. You have compassion for Ove. You care about him.

One day, when I was reading Steven Covey’s leadership book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I had an epiphany. Covey tells the story of being on a New York City subway one Sunday morning, when a man and his children enter the car. The children are out of control, yelling, “throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers.” The man just sits there until Covey finally asks him politely if he could please control his children, as they are “really disturbing a lot of people.”

The man lifts his gaze and explains that they have just come from the hospital, where the children’s mother has died about an hour before. “I don’t know what to think,” the father says, “and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?” asks Covey. “My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.”

Compassion* is needed more than ever right now. The coronavirus has robbed people across the globe of their jobs, milestones, closeness with extended family, school, special trips, social time, sports and other activities, even basic things like food, water, and healthcare.

The kindest people, people who have all the basics, are being pushed by fear, frustration, and disappointment to the end of their proverbial ropes. And it’s hard to be patient with them when we’re the target of their anger

Ever since reading “7 Habits,” I have been making up backstories for people who lash out at me, whether it’s someone driving by me honking and giving me the finger or one of my kids snapping at me. Rather than taking their behavior personally, I make up a backstory for them. Maybe the guy who got exasperated following me as I went my usual five miles only over the speed limit was on his way to meet his pregnant wife at the hospital. Perhaps my daughter is having a hard time with her children, and is feeling overwhelmed. Maybe my husband is feeling out of control because there’s nothing he can do to fix this situation.

I think about the wisdom in the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, and remember not to take anything personally, because “nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams.”

And that is how I’m getting through this challenging time: making up stories for other’s behavior, remembering it’s not about me, and giving people the benefit of the doubt, so that I can feel compassion for them.

Perhaps if those of us who are up to it can consciously practice compassion, the world will be a kinder place when this thing is over. And if it takes a long time, at least life will be more pleasant while we’re waiting.

* Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ― Frederick Buechner

Streetlight Effect

THIS PANDEMIC IS TEACHING ME SOMETHING IMPORTANT ABOUT MYSELF

This pandemic is teaching me something important about myself. Too often lately, I’m falling prey to the Streetlight Effect. (If you’re familiar with it, you can skip this next part and go to “Human beings…”)

What is the Streetlight effect? Here’s the usual story that explains it:

A policeman is walking by a bar one night, and he sees a drunk man crawling around on the ground beneath a lamp post.

“What are you looking for?” the cop asks the drunk man.

“I’m looking for my house keys,” the man says. “I lost them around here.”

“I’ll help you,” the cop says. Together, they begin to look around under the streetlight.

But after a few minutes, neither one of them can find the keys.

“Are you sure this is where you lost your keys?” the cop asks.

No, I’m not sure of that at all,” the man says. “I might’ve lost them in the alley.”

“Then why aren’t you looking in the alley?” the cop asks.

“Well, this is where the light is,” the drunk man says.

Human beings tend to look for the truth in the places where it’s easiest to search, rather than the places where it’s likely to be.

I’m guilty of this. And in these crazy days of the coronavirus, we tend to look to our favorite media and the people we trust (our streetlights) for the truth. But given the confusion and lack of real knowledge that exists about the virus, we need to be careful not to be too sure of ourselves. Because nobody really has the answers. Right now, it’s all guesswork.

Case in point: On Wednesday, I read a long scientific paper stating that it could take 10 years before we know if the coronavirus is something we can actually protect ourselves from, either from a vaccine or by catching it and building the antibodies that will stay with us for the rest of our lives — if indeed they will. Even the experts really aren’t sure.

In the meantime, do we continue to stay home until the cases throughout the country peak? Until a vaccine is developed? (President Trump is promising one by the end of the year, but the experts say it won’t happen until next spring at the earliest.) And while we wait, there are children to educate (not to mention hold and hug), jobs to do, people to take care of, lives to live. How long do we wait? And just how flat does the curve have to be?

On Thursday, Gene and I had socially distant drinks with a couple we know from business. He’s a cardiologist and, like many doctors, speaks with a very authoritative tone. I asked him where he stood on the coronavirus and whether people should begin venturing out. He talked about the folly in trying to totally avoid the germs all around us, that only a very small percentage of the people who come down with COVID-19 die from it, and they, for the most part, are already not well.

His attitude seemed so cold and objective. I think he was speaking the truth, but his apparent lack of concern for the vulnerable was troubling. I guess there are those who feel that most of us should simply go about our business, and let nature take its course.

He made me think, and that’s a good thing. But I don’t want to disregard my humanity in exchange for practicality. Surely there’s a way to proceed that acknowledges the need for people to work and support themselves and their families, but also protects the vulnerable.

So what is the way? A lot of people on both sides of the aisle are trying to figure that out. And in the meantime, I’m going to do my best not to judge how others choose to deal with that question, providing they’re taking a thoughtful approach. Because we won’t know for a long time what the best course of action may have been.

I’m going to do what’s comfortable for me, and within reason, allow others the same right. And I hope they will do the same for me. After all, we’re in this together.

France Is Not to Be

GENE AND i SHOULD BE PACKING

Introduction: I almost bagged this blog. I was concerned that I might sound insensitive to what’s going on in the world. So I slept on it, and decided this morning that we all need diversion right now, a break from this damned pandemic. So here you go…

Gene and I should be packing for France. We had a great adventure planned, and reservations to fly out of Phoenix this Tuesday. We were to land in Paris and take the high-speed train to Normandy. 

We had a charming hotel reserved in Bayeux, and two tours scheduled. The first was a tour of Omaha Beach, where the Allied forces landed nearly 76 years ago during the largest seaborne invasion in history, and 4,414 Allied soldiers lost their lives that tragic day.

The second was a tour of Mont-Saint-Michel, the tidal island off the northwest coast of France. “Mindwalk,” the 1990 film starring Liv Ullman, Sam Waterston, and John Heard had a life-changing effect on me. It’s a fascinating conversation among a physicist, a U.S. senator, and a poet, about how the world works. (Is it more like a clock or a tree?) And the movie is set in The Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.

From Normandy, we were going to drive to Beaune, Burgundy, where we were excited to explore the 15th Century walled town and taste the fabulous wines made from the Côte d’Or vineyards surrounding Beaune, “the very epicenter of wine porn.” – Robert Draper, The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2015.

We are wine-lovers, and have been to vineyards in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and – last May — Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where we sat in a restored 13th Century wine cellar and tasted eight wines. We could hardly wait to sample the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in Burgundy.

Next, we planned to drive to Paris for eight days. I had found a charming apartment through Airbnb in the first arrondissement*, near the Louvre. When we travel, we like to immerse ourselves in the place, pretend we live there, and site-see as the mood strikes. While we still can, we decide for ourselves what we’re going to do and figure out the local transportation.

The downside to this approach is you don’t see as much as you would on a tour, you get lost a lot, and sometimes you order a liter of wine, instead of a glass. The upside is, you don’t feel rushed, you have more interaction with the people who live and work there, you learn how to navigate the city, and sometimes you order a liter of wine, instead of a glass. (Yes, this happened to us in Avignon last May, and we had to hold each other up all the way back to our hotel.)

Last May was our first trip to Paris together. We stayed in the Marais district, which is filled with young families and interesting museums. We hung out each morning in a different café, eating the best croissants in the world, drinking lattes and freshly squeezed orange juice, and watching parents walk their children to school and day care before work. It’s an amazing way to start the day!

We were hoping to do that again this year, as well as some things we haven’t done together: tour the Louvre, not just take pictures of it; have lunch at the Jules Verne on the 2nd Floor of the Eiffel Tower; walk to Montmartre and climb the steps of the Sacré-Cœur (and the additional 300 to the dome); walk through the Musée d’Orsay, see the Chagall on the ceiling of the Palais Garnier opera house; and take a blanket to the Champ de Mars and watch the light show on the Eiffel Tower at dusk (with a bottle of wine, of course).

But back to reality. Here we are in Phoenix, Arizona, 32 days into Governor Ducey’s “stay at home” order. It’s 97°, and I’m trying to look on the bright side. After all, we have plenty of food and toilet paper; we have a home we love in a neighborhood where we can walk in safety; we can be with friends and neighbors (at a safe distance or on Zoom); we have access to wonderful entertainment through Netflix and Amazon Prime; all our children and grandchildren are within 30 minutes of us; we have two sweet kitty cats; and we have each other.

So, no France this year. But we are among the lucky ones. And don’t we know it.

*The 20 arrondissements are arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral, starting from the middle of Paris, on the Right Bank of the Seine.

Becoming the One

WE’RE IN OUR 24TH DAY

We’re in our 24th day of Arizona’s “Stay at Home” order, and I’m surprisingly busy and content. Why is that?

I have a considerate, understanding husband who is thoughtful enough to leave me alone in my office for hours at a time. We go for long walks. We take turns cooking and watch a lot of good stuff on TV. We have sex. We go camping and fishing to break up the monotony of being at home day after day. I bake. I work in the garden. I organize my shoes.

But honestly, if I didn’t have my women friends, I think I would be in a terrible funk. Men may feel the same way about their male friends; I’m not sure. You see, we women reach out to each other. We send each other texts, emails, and notes. We call and check on each other. We ask each other for advice. We FaceTime and meet in the park for lunch. We share our recipes, books, TV shows, feelings. We organize happy hours on Zoom. We do these things because we are women, and women prioritize connection. They initiate.

And when I don’t initiate, one of my friends does. I have several who are especially good about that. I get busy and weeks may go by. They don’t give up on me or assume I don’t love them. They reach out. And I’m grateful. Because women can talk to each other about things the men in our lives just wouldn’t know or care about. Let’s face it: while I’m talking about my sick friend, Gene is thinking about the exhaust manifold in his truck… or the weeds that need spraying… or his testosterone level.

There are some big differences between the sexes. And I gave up long ago expecting to get everything I need from my man. I need to be loved by others, too, and I need to express my love for them by giving them my attention.

So I’m trying to become “the one” in Hafez’s beautiful 14th Century poem, “With that Moon Language.” Because I love my girlfriends. And they love me.

With that Moon Language

Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them,

     “Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;

     Otherwise,

Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,

This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one

Who lives with a full moon in each eye

That is always saying

With that sweet moon

     Language

What every other eye in this world

     Is dying to

     Hear.

Contrast

C.S. LEWIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. I became a fan the summer after 5th grade, when I read The Chronicles of Narnia, and wept when I finished the last one – not so much because of the sadness of the tale, but that it was over.

Turns out, Lewis was close friends with J. R. R. Tolkien. In fact, Tolkien led Lewis back to Anglicanism after years of his having been an atheist.

Lewis was to become a great theologian. In my senior year of high school I read his book, Mere Christianity, and the concept of contrast hit home: the idea that without rain, we wouldn’t appreciate sunshine; without pain, we wouldn’t feel comfort; without cruelty, we wouldn’t see kindness; without terror, we wouldn’t know peace; without evil, we wouldn’t recognize good. Contrast is instrumental to our appreciating what we have because if we aren’t threatened with its loss, we take it for granted.

And as we stay home during this horrendous pandemic, I do think it helps to appreciate, feel, see, know, and recognize all the positives. Where we see hunger, ill-health, poverty, suffering, injustice, and untimely death, we also see amazing heroism. “Look for the helpers,” as Mr. Rogers said.

I see them all around us — in my neighbors, who are checking in on those who are alone; in the young man who shopped for us with such care and delivered our groceries with a respectful bow; in my friend Rita, who is sewing masks for service members and their families; in clergy conducting online services from home; in doctors opening their offices to ill patients; in our daughter Katie, who is a NICU nurse, and goes dutifully to her 12-hour shifts at the hospital, leaving behind her husband and three small children; in our newscasters broadcasting from home; in our restaurant workers, who cook our “to go” orders and serve us with a smile; to the grocery store workers, who diligently stock the shelves, sanitize the carts, and man the check-out counters; to volunteers who are calling to check on the vulnerable who are home alone.

I see “the helpers” with immigrant children who are separated from their parents. And I see them in the prisons, with those who feel hopeless.

As they go about their business, ‘the helpers” unconsciously model the good in this situation: the opportunity to be our best selves. Without realizing it, they are challenging us to join their ranks, to do what we can. And we all can do something.

Yes, life is filled with contrasts. And when this damned COVID-19 is over, and we have witnessed the great good in humanity, perhaps we will be better people, and the world will be a better place.

What Is This?

I HAVEN’T SLEPT WELL LATELY.

I haven’t slept well lately. I wake up worrying about my husband, our children, their children, our pets, my health, my friends — especially those who are single or have health issues, healthcare workers, people who stock our grocery stores and check us out, immigrant families in detention centers, what our president might do next or not do, the world…

My life has changed dramatically in just a few weeks. No visits with kids and grandkids, no workouts in the gym, no church, no French class, no dance class, no boxing class, no choir, no in-person meetings, no social life.

I go about my days and try to keep an “attitude of gratitude.” After all, I’m one of the lucky ones. I can talk on the phone and FaceTime. I can work in the garden and take walks. I can read and watch TV. We can go camping with our trailer and change environments. But the lack of connectedness to other people is palpable.

I feel overwhelmed and powerless. My life as I know it is gone, at least for the present. An article I read in the Harvard Business Review pinpointed what I’m feeling: grief. And as the author, Scott Berinato, says, “If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it.”

His piece, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” March 23, 2020, HBR, centers on an interview with David Kessler, who co-wrote with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss

Kessler says, “We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

“We’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

I feel better having a label for my feelings. It allows me to breathe, to move around in my world, to appreciate the things I do have, to find new ways of living and being, and to remember that the most important things are the people we love and care about.

I can reach out to my family and friends – through phone calls, text messages, emails, FaceTime, Zoom, cards and letters, walks while we talk, birthday cakes dropped off at front doors, and prayer. I am not powerless to let them know I’m thinking about them, and I can do something each day to stay connected.

And in time, life will be “normal” again, even if it’s different.