In one sense, it’s ridiculous to draw a comparison between what we are experiencing and what would happen if some natural or man made disaster of apocalyptic proportions took place. But in another sense, the swift economic and social paradigm shifts that have taken place could draw a parallel unlike anything that we have ever experienced in the modern era.
Call it a soft apocalypse. One without the radiated zombie deer. And instead of a twinkie deficit, we merely had a temporary TP shortage.
So what happens now? as the metaphorical dust settles and normality ensues, do we take away anything valuable? Do we reflect on the unprecedented event that just happened; or do we merely press forward – persevere, take charge and don’t look back.
I sincerely wonder how most people are reacting. I wonder if I am out of sync with ‘reality’. I imagine in some ways I am. In some ways, I’ve lived a vastly different life than than most. I was home schooled in the 90’s – 1-2% of the population for the U.S. at that time. Out of high school I moved to Las Vegas to continue pursuing a punk/metal/screamo career with my friends. It was short lived, but we did record an EP at the same area where we practiced – a storage unit/jam space/recording studio. Tell me that isn’t rad. I also got a really sweet, probably-too-large-for-a-second tattoo, camped in my Blazer outside of a small desert town north of Vegas every weekend in August, smoked a preposterous amount of cheap cigars, and overall learned what living in a pulsing city of a million or so people felt like compared to a small farm town of about two grand. I have also taken a rather meandering, side stepping, back-and-forth career path. I have worked in the medical field – I spent three years working at a children’s psych hospital as a direct care provider; I also did a stint at an assisted living facility, working exclusively with Alzheimer residents. I have worked various vocations in the construction field – electrical, heavy equipment operating, irrigation, insulation. I have worked retail and customer service. And my current hat as a small business owner and operator employs aspects of every one of these fields (not very much of the singing/screaming, unfortunately). I also dabbled in education – I lingered in college long enough to get an associates degree in business with a supposed emphasis on small business management, and realized that: (1) I wasn’t learning anything about how to practically and functionally run a small business, and that (2), though I was really becoming addicted to the pleasure of writing papers, getting really good grades, studying and researching my heart out – the track of attending another 2 years, wracking up another fifteen to thirty grand in student loans – only to be qualified for a middle management position was never my intended trajectory, so I stopped there. For now at least.
If you’ve trudged this far with me, I want to assure you that this is neither some bizarre resume to prove some sort of credibility (digression: I have been writing resumes lately and you can imagine how inventive I have had to be), nor am I attempting necessarily to spotlight how special or unique my experience is – as a barber I’ve talked to hundreds of people in the last five years and I like to treat these appointments as mini interviews; I love to ask about peoples stories – especially as it relates to their vocational journey – so I have garnished a deep understanding and appreciation for the twists and turns that most of our lives take. I only summarize some of my story to give you a picture of my experience; what has led me here. So back to feeling kind of crazy…
I believe that what informs us, influences us. That may go without saying, but then I wonder, why is it so easy to get lost in articles and ‘news’ that, looked at objectively, blatantly aim to influence, not innocently inform. So I have attempted to limit my ‘news’ input for the last month; focusing only on the bare necessities of information that I need to know. I have turned these down, but I’ll be honest, I have had a very difficult time turning down ‘influencers’. I’m not talking about the one’s with hundreds of thousands of followers, I’m talking about friends and acquaintances; people who have strong beliefs and opinions about the state of things. We’re all influenced in this arena – as we should be, to an extent. But one downfall of social media is that it is conditioning us to grab our phone the moment there’s a silence in our day (have you noticed the chime as you open Facebook? that’s called: C-O-N-D-I-T-I-O-N-I-N-G). So instead of thinking, or writing down our own thoughts, or staring at a steaming cup of coffee; watching paint dry or grass grow – instead of breathing – it’s too easy to pick up that device and ‘inform’ ourselves with endless opinions and pictures, then inevitably feel compelled to ‘share’ our own position on a matter. And are we even wearing blue light blockers when we do it!? I jest…about the glasses, but for the last couple of weeks, it hasn’t been a laughing matter for me, this conditioning. Even as I dodged the articles like landmines, I was breathing in the radiation of opinions and perspectives; aimlessly meandering through these digital fields where I didn’t even need to be. I realize how pathetic this may sound, but I was in all reality, binging on social media. In retrospect, since I have returned to work, I realize one reason why this might have been the case: a fundamental element of my vocation is talking with and listening to people. I do it all day every day. So in order to stay ‘relevant’ in conversations, I have grown, quite unintentionally over the years, a practice of knowing a little bit about a lot of topics. Actually, I think it’s a common and poisoning practice a lot of us get into. It’s so quiet, but it’s pervasive. And really, it draws us from deeply and wholeheartedly focusing on the thing that we should be. It draws us away from tuning in to our families, it distract us from engaging the tangible issues around us, and it overwhelms and cripples our creative processes. Being informed is one thing, being infatuated – especially about topics that we have little to no control over – is quite different. It’s like riding on a train: unless I’m the conductor (hint:I’m not. Hint 2: his name rhymes with Lark Huckerterg), I have no real control of where this crazy train is going, and I can’t get off of it unless I leap while it’s still picking up speed.
Yet here’s what happened: diligently I waited for the crazy train to come around the corner, and I jumped on without reserve – it didn’t even have to stop for me.
So here we are. we’re on this digital train and we entered the COVID tunnel together. The light in front of us has only been a pinhead – but now, suddenly, it’s growing rapidly and ‘normal’ seems not only possible, but imminent. Things that we may not have imagined returning to routine, at least for awhile, are now being streamlined. I foresee many of us being blinded as we come out of this. I personally feel like I have been holding my breath subconsciously, not wondering what awaits, as much as contemplating whether all of the time spent in the allegorical darkness – where schedules crept or halted, calendars had only a few scrawls, dinners were eaten together, board games were dusted off, stories were read, Zoom calls with far off family were built in to the day (I could go on, but I may tear up) – will these things be cast off like shadows as we pierce out from under the other side of the once looming precipice of COVID-19? It really hasn’t been all that long, but but for many of us, it’s the longest disruption from schedule that we have encountered since college, or high school, or…pretty much ever possibly. Are we really ready to see the light?
I know that it’s inevitable. I know that that we can’t linger here in these tight quarters – it wouldn’t be good for people’s appetites or our affects. But the bucking exit from routine surfaced some truths for me that I can’t ignore and let fade back into the recesses. First and foremost are the dozens, if not hundreds of conversations that I have had over the past five years while cutting older gentlemen’s hair that summarize like this: ‘I wish that I would have spent more time with my kids when they were younger’….’time sure does fly’…’now that I’m retired, i don’t know what to do’…
You may have heard of Bronnie Ware; an Australian nurse who wrote a book about the answers she received about regrets from terminally ill patients who she cared for. Here are the top five:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Hmm. How does this list make you feel? Read it again. Those first two sunk right into my chest. In fact, that first one has been the most covered topic between my wife and I during this hiatus from ‘normal’. And I can tell you that, even after almost five weeks at home, with little influences from outside sources – that pressure is still there. It’s still high enough to not let the lid off. It can be tricky to realize how influential others’ opinions – whether spoken or perceived – have affected our trajectory. Our mind has to synthesize so much when we are constantly moving, constantly working, scheduling, planning; it’s easy to absorb others’ opinions – especially when they are strongly given – into the mix of how we live. This may just seem like part of life – but then I go back to the list above, or all of those dreary haircut conversations, and I wonder. I wonder how many experiences I’ve forfeited by listening to the voices in my head, and now, with the barrage of social media influence on our conscience, those ‘voices’ don’t go away unless they are put away. Think about this: even with a worldwide pandemic silencing the streets of the busiest cities on Earth, the voices continue, even in the smallest apartments in the highest skyscrapers. Yes, there are upsides to having the the world to stream, but it takes a lot of discipline to actually shut off all of the negative and only schedule in the positive.
So what sheltering in place has shown me is that I am quite addicted to ‘noise’. Even with three little humans (1,3, and 4) runnin’ umuck, my default isn’t to sit in silence after a long day of playing, teaching, and mediating heated toy Property Rights arguments. Instead, when I’m most exhausted and susceptible, I scroll. And then I compare. And as all of us know, there are people who are fantastic at selfies; they’re also great at polishing their stories up and filtering out the raw, less-than-glamorous scenes. No one taught them how Story works. Unfortunately, these polished images do nothing to help us, they only contrast what we are seeing with our bent, bruised, and often broken stories; to the point where we become discouraged and start to neglect the very thing that will make us happy: our own internal work.
Thankfully, even as life is ‘normalizing’, there has been just enough jarring in routine, that I’ve finally started to wake up to many deep wounds – many of which I’ve existed with literally all of my life. If it weren’t for this disruption, I wouldn’t have seen my broken processes – the ways that I have coped with hurt and pain day after day, year after year. I’m tempted to dig in to some real controversial topics, particularly one that is generalized in the phrase ‘victim mentality’ – maybe in the coming conversations. But I sense that as some of you read the beginning of this paragraph, the eye rolling came almost involuntarily. If so, no judgement. But what I have been learning is that it is exactly those reactions – the involuntary ones, that give us some real insight to our broken internal systems and why some of us struggle with the path that our lives are on. If that last sentence speaks to you; if you feel like the trajectory of your life is completely out of your control and not the path that you have chosen, I would encourage you to open yourself up to that tension. Allow yourself to admit that life took some turns that you didn’t intend. Usually when these types of thoughts rise to the surface of our conscience, we stuff them right back down in an attempt to drown them because they don’t serve us, and because: ‘positive thinking’…and stuff…right? But admitting the truth wins out over telling ourselves a lie any day. Really, what happens is that we have the opportunity to be honest with the fact that we: 1) are not content with where we are, and 2) we want to change. And I can tell you that change is possible – but change, by definition, doesn’t come from employing the same processes that we always have. Example: I feel a sense of despair when I see someone else’s success in a matter. My reaction: stuff it away – distract myself with something else ASAP. Instead, I’m stubbornly learning that sitting for a moment with these thoughts – not combating them or immediately discrediting them, just acknowledging that they happened, is ultimately the pathway to their origin. We live with these toxic thoughts day in and day out, it’s only when we fess up to our brokenness that we can change our trajectory.
Much is changing in our life, of which I hope to share more of in the near future. But what this global slow down has taught me that I refuse to ignore, is this simple admission: I’m broken. I could spin it a different way, word it a different way,say it a different way; but that’s the truth of it. My internal processes have failed me and I acknowledge that finally. Of course, that’s not comfortable to say, but I’d rather come to this realization now, rather than thirty year from now when my kids are gone and I’m sitting in a barber chair, (if I still have hair) reflecting back on life.
You and I have an opportunity like never before and probably never again to pause and consider life. Even now as the wheels start turning, I would encourage you to imagine that the world is still very much in slow motion, regardless of what your schedule or routine looks like. Take the first four months of this year and reflect on what changed from the first two and the latter two. What became important in March and April? Did you start any projects that you have put off? Did you feel a bit more emotional when you had the opportunity to talk to a friend or a family member? Did you pick up an instrument or a pen? I’ve found that what I would say is important to me, often was the first thing to be cancelled or put off. It’s a great tragedy that most of us live this way, as evidenced by the Bronnie Ware’s research above. For me, writing is, and always has been my Soul’s home. It’s where I find peace and comfort; it’s where I make sense of the world and where my imagination blooms. And though I would say that it is important to me, my broken systems kept me locked out; they told me that I don’t deserve a home, that my place is somewhere else.
So my hope and prayer for you is that you got a taste of Home over the last couple of months and that you will sit with some of those annoying thoughts that ultimately are dissuading you from your true Place. Sit with them, and let them lead you back to their roots. I think that you’ll be surprised how far back in your story they trace, and what they trace to, but in discovering, you’ll realize that there is much healing for you, and the path Home is through that healing.