By Michaela O’Donnell Long, reprinted from the De Pree Center.
The other night my daughter and I were putting together a LEGO set. LEGOs have become what I’ll affectionately call a “pandemic pastime” in our house. As is usual, she was the builder and I was the helper. As helper, my job was to look at the instructions and see what pieces she’d need next, and then hand them to her. As she concentrated, the only sound that filled the room was that of my son’s noise machine coming through the baby monitor. He was finally sleeping. My husband was in our home office working.
With the kids taken care of, my body registered that I had just a teeny bit of free space. So, my mind started racing. I went from zero to sixty wondering: How the hospitals are doing in New York today? What about LA? Oh, I forgot to get garlic at the store! I’ve got to make this week’s meal plan. Oh, and the laundry. Oh, I have to reschedule that work call for tomorrow, still. And, on and on and on. Even before the pandemic, my life as a working parent made me feel like I was always on. But now, it’s a whole new level. Now, I feel like I’m constantly juggling six wildly different sized objects.
With the safer at home guidelines in Los Angeles, we no longer have any form of childcare. Yet, both of us are still working full time from home. Parenting a four-year-old and a one year old is one thing. Working from home is another. Doing them simultaneously is unreasonable. Yet, here we are doing it anyway. It’s like we’re constantly jugging six different sized objects. We’re just trying to survive this weird and hard time.
As I talk with friends and family and colleagues, it seems like in one way or another we’re all just trying to survive. Sure, it looks different for each of us. Some of us are trying to survive the fact that we have too much to do. Others are trying to survive the fact that they don’t have enough to do. Some of us are trying to survive being cooped up with our family. Others of us are trying to survive being home alone all the time. Some of us are trying to deal with the fact that we’ve lost jobs or our freelance work. Others of us are trying to deal with the fact that we’re laying people off or having to pivot to different business models on a dime. Some of us are trying to literally survive COVID-19. Others of us are trying to face being on the front lines of this pandemic. Many of us are trying to survive our own emotions. Others of us can’t even go there.
We’re all doing unreasonable and hard things right now. We’re all mentally juggling a lot. Now, I’m not a psychologist. So, there might be a better way to say what I’m about to. But, to me, it feels like we’ve entered an era of collective trauma caused by a pandemic.
Of course, it’s not the first time we’ve gone through collective trauma. In fact, our history is full of hardship. For those of us who didn’t live through WWII, the best touch point we have to make sense of what’s happening now is 9/11. But even that falls short. I was a senior in high school when the planes struck the twin towers. I remember what it was like to live that event as a community. I remember sitting in my high school social studies class with a teacher who helped us process and contextualize it all. I remember going much more regularly to my Grandma Evelyn’s house for dinner for a while. I remember the extra hugs and tears that were shared. I remember how right it felt to be with people.
Part of what’s weird now, is that we can’t yet be physically together as we face this collective trauma. The smartest epidemiologists, public health experts, and our best government officials are pleading with us to retreat into our own homes and physically distance ourselves from people at all times. I am 100% in support of this strategy, by the way. Just naming that in the mist of the greatest collective trauma in my lifetime, the strategy for collective survival is physical distance and sheltering in place. That’s likely going to be a whole new layer of trauma as we sort all of this out in coming time. And, it creates a lot more for individuals to juggle.
Plus, I don’t think it’s wise to hope that this will all be over soon. Even as I write this, Los Angeles schools have announced that they’ve closed for at least the next month. Our mayor has told us to prepare ourselves for months of life where we only leave our homes for essentials and exercise.
So, my husband and I are preparing for an extended time of unreasonable and difficult life. We’re preparing to juggle things the best we can for a foreseeable future. When it comes to what we should do, we’re treating guidance from our governor and our mayor like step-by-step LEGO instructions. Stay in place. Wash hands. Go out for essentials. Keep space between people. Wash hands. Repeat. Much like building LEGO sets, the very specific directions are promising us the hoped-for outcome. If we follow these rules, we will flatten the curve. Got it, okay, let’s get to work.
But, when it comes to how we will be, we have to look elsewhere for our guidance. We don’t have a set of step-by-step LEGO instructions. We can look to the Bible, the church, wise friends and family. But, like so many other people we are at home alone having to piece together our plan for ourselves. In this way, it’s much more like one of those big LEGO buckets with seemingly endless colored pieces that invite you to make whatever you imagine.
So, take deep breaths and look at the big metaphorical bucket of LEGOs in front of you. What might be in there amidst the rubble? Can you imagine how you might shape all these separate pieces into something meaningful? Anyone around you building something else you like that you can copy? Will you promise yourself grace if what you build today comes crashing down tomorrow?
Deep breaths. In my next piece, I offer a glimpse into what we’re building together as a household.
For now, let me leave you with a little LEGO themed commission for us:
May we gladly take up the job of builder or helper or whatever else today.
May we follow the instructions of those who have architected the plans.
May we take heart in creating something new with all the pieces in the big LEGO bucket.
May we build peace-by-peace together.
May we rebuild grace-by-grace together.
May God who has created from the beginning, give you comfort.
In love and legos, go and be well today.