Sea turtle swimming under water.

Just Keep Swimming

Personal Diary

I remember seeing a newspaper headline once, asking something to the effect of “Why are optimistic people so insufferable?” Then, as now, it struck me as a truly bizarre thing to say. Why should we find happy people difficult to tolerate? I certainly don’t. For me, they’re a breath of fresh air and an example of how to embrace the chaos and unpredictability of life with a smile.

In my life there is no better representation of this than my grandfather. He is the ultimate vision of a grateful, meaningful existence. I don’t think I have ever seen him unhappy. Not in a plastic, “fake it ’til you make it” kind of way, but a sincere, beaming display of exuberance. He’s a human embodiment of the warm rays of the sun.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I want to be, but more often than not I find reasons to feel gloomy and pessimistic; forever seeing risk instead of opportunity. I’ve written about Being Eeyore before, and unfortunately that’s a frame of mind that’s lingered over me like a little raincloud for the entire pandemic. All the same, it’s crucial to keep pushing forward.

“Trudging the road of happy destiny” is one thing. At least you’re progressing in a useful direction; doing your best to work through adversity towards brighter days and greener pastures. “Working and waiting to die” on the other hand, as a friend of mine once said, encapsulates the pain of profound despair and is an entirely different matter. Passive resignation of a hopeless and bleak future is no way to live.

So where does that leave us during hard times? “Just keep swimming.”

This is not to say my spirit animal is an animated fish with short term memory loss, but the mantra works. There are many additional quotes from popular culture we could also look to, from Monty Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life,” to Gandalf’s advice in The Hobbit:

“Always remember, Bilbo, when your heart wants lifting, think of pleasant things.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

The point is, finding hope sometimes means looking for it – through action. “Seek and ye shall find,” as they say.

This is where optimistic people are so crucial in the world, at least to me. They provide us pessimistic folks with an example of what a positive outlook looks like, when it can feel so foreign and fake.

Optimistic people aren’t insufferable, they’re irreplaceable.

Concerned man standing against a blackboard with strength depicted behind him.

Moving Beyond Fear

General

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, Dune

We are more than COVID-19. We cannot let it become all that we read about, all that we talk about, all that we think about. If we arrive at that place, life ceases to be, and there is only fear.

Caution and forethought are crucial during times like this, there’s no doubt about it. But surely there must be a point at which we set aside the topic of coronavirus and start looking forward again to existence in all its diversity and variety. Yes, we must stay vigilant. Yes, we must stay alert. But that doesn’t mean we must shelve our optimism, joy, and hope.

I make the mistake of reading the newspaper every day, and every day I immediately regret it. Yes, there are occasional pearls of wisdom that can be put into practice; useful suggestions that can make a difference in how we cope, and how we stay safe. But more often than not it’s an endless stream of fear-invoking articles about how many people are sick in the world, how many are dying, and how all the things we turn to for solace are failing us.

It is absolutely heartbreaking, and yet passively dwelling on the statistics, the uncertainty, and the chaos contributes nothing to the world, and nothing to our mental health.

Some people may need to see information like this; perhaps those who continue to live in denial about the severity of this pandemic and think it’s a perfect time to gather in droves on the beaches and in the pubs. But for those of us who have taken it seriously for some time now and are already doing our best to social distance, self-isolate, cough into our elbows, not hoard toilet paper, and be considerate of others – to us, these news articles do more harm than good.

Fear is a state of powerlessness, and living in powerlessness is neither enjoyable nor helpful. This is not to suggest we refuse to recognise the people, places and things we cannot control, but to make a conscious decision to accept them as they are and instead focus our attention on what we can control.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Serenity Prayer

Being kind, helpful, and supportive; assisting the sick, the marginalised, or the scared; being present for our children, our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents; offering a friendly ear to those that need it. These are all things that we can do, here and now. And they can make a real difference in people’s lives. They can help us come together as a community and inspire hope and happiness. But we need to be willing to move beyond fear and search for hope as a matter of daily practice.

It’s the active search for hope and unity, rather than the resigned miring in isolation and fear, that will start to pull us forward and bring us together. We will get through this. The question for each of us is: What do you want life to look and feel like for you while you are getting through this?