- Melissa Westemeier
It's human nature to pull in tighter when we feel fear. Instinct makes us curl in to protect ourselves from a punch, we wrap ourselves around vulnerabilities to take the blow on tougher parts. Knock me on the back of my skull instead of my nose. I still find myself reaching out an arm to block my teenaged son when we brake hard at an intersection. All of my sons are bigger than me now, they're taller, they weigh more, they're physically stronger--what illogical impulse, right? Instincts are strong forces.
I try to wrap my head around people's response to feeling afraid and it comes to this: people act selfishly because it's a protective instinct.
What's the counterpoint to selfish behavior? Fearless consideration and generosity. Sacrifice. I fight the urge to curl in and avoid interaction, to bow my head and go my own way and concentrate on ol' number one. I have to put aside the impulse to protect what I value in order to contemplate what would be better for others. This requires vulnerability. Leaving myself exposed. Taking the hit. Experiencing the loss.
Generosity looks different right now. It's the opposite of reaching out to touch each other with our hands, it requires keeping a safe distance because it's not about me. It's about how I might affect you--without knowing, without wanting to, I might have the capacity to hurt you. The considerate thing to do right now--and for a long time--is to stay home, wear the mask in public, keep apart and avoid the contact. This behavior is not fun. Some may even argue that staying home is selfish in its own way, furthering the division of our society. The difficulty comes in finding the ways to take care of ourselves (staying home, protecting ourselves and our loved ones) and reach out to take care of others (strangers, neighbors, friends). I have to share myself with a note in the mail, a prepackaged gift, a phone call. I have to fight the urge to curl up so tightly in my own home that I forget to reach out and offer encouragement to other people. This requires creativity and lately I'm pretty tapped out. I want to be selfish because I'm scared, too. I don't want to get sick, I don't want anyone in my family to get sick, I don't want to miss out on the fun parts of life because I stayed home, I don't know how long this will last and I don't know what the future will bring. It's tough to keep these fears at bay.
I've also found a blessing in this closed-in bubble of staying home: I have an opportunity to pay closer attention with extra time in less space. I find myself examining each part of my surroundings and discovering that I enjoy some, can improve on others and I ought to eliminate a few parts altogether. I'm noticing some new features: a flock of cedar waxwings in a crabapple tree outside my library window, tiny purple flowers blooming in the lawn, how comfortably I can work in the screen porch because I discovered that the wifi signal reaches far enough. The yard sounds like a rainforest with all the birds shrieking and singing and calling and cackling. Chipmunks scuttle between the greenhouse and the shed. A book I'd forgotten I'd purchased sits on a shelf and I'm eager to read it. Before this happened life moved so fast that I missed these little pleasures.
More time in less space helps me learn what is valuable: quiet prayer and meditation to guide my thoughts, a conversation with my offspring, fresh flowers in a vase, gathering around the table for a meal together, careful perusal of a text instead of a fast skim, regular hikes at the nature trail nearby. I also notice what needs purging: mindless scrolling through a feed, freezer-burned packages of shredded zucchini preventing me from defrosting a nearly-empty freezer, TV channels we pay for and never watch.
I'll wipe down and unplug that freezer today. I'll empty the litter box, unload the dishwasher and begin reading that book. I'll thank God for the cedar (and Bohemian!) waxwings in the crabapple tree. I will divide the hostas and ferns crowded too close to a fence and replant them beside the shed where they'll have space to grow and take over where some nasty thistles always spread. I will ask God for peace to drive out fear and lovingkindness to take over my heart. This awesome, delightful and archaic word is derived from chacadh, meaning, perhaps, "to bend or bow oneself," "to incline oneself"; hence, "to be gracious or merciful" (according to International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). To incline or to bow myself to others with kindness instead of bowing to myself out of fear--that's a concept to work on understanding today.