I have been chewing on Sherly Sandberg’s Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience And Finding Joy. It’s the kind of book you keep going back to for its nuggets of wisdom especially at such times as we are currently living in. Therein, I came across Nietzsche’s quote: He who has a WHY to live, can bear with almost any How. I have never heard about this guy with a hard-to-pronounce, kinda Russian name (note to self, google him) but that quote was profound. I have so many whys to live for, the fact that I am only halfway through my life not being the least of them. In the midst of Corona, can I find the hows to navigate this challenge?
In my last post, I confessed that I was feeling rudderless. Lost. Sad even. Can I get over these emotions to enable me emerge on the other side of hope, power and joy? It is not all gloom all the time, but my over-active mind often leads me to despair and forget all the lessons that have propelled me in the past. Just the other day in the month of February (seems like moons ago), I led a Toastmasters meeting themed “When Things Fall Apart”. Oh! You should have heard me quoting Pema Chodron, author of the book with the same title. I was full of it, ending with the quotable quote: The most important thing to remember and the easiest to forget is: “You’re going to be okay.”
Talk of preaching water and drinking wine! I will be quick to admit that my heart and mind are often out of sync. My heart wants to see beyond the gloom but my mind is often fixated on the numbers being spewed by CS Mutahi Kagwe, which are now bearing exponents! Not forgetting the negative messages in circulation.
I have been reading a lot lately. Getting lost in books has always been my best relaxation strategies and working from home has accorded me the much needed time to enjoy at least two books per week, as well as many online articles.
In a recent article, the Harvard Business Review interviewed David Kessler, author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief on how to manage grief during the Corona pandemic. He talked about the five stages of grief. First, there’s denial, which was evident early on: This virus won’t affect us. Then comes anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. Then we switch to bargaining mode: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? Then sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. And the sixth stage according to his new book is finding meaning. I guess the jury is still out on the meaning we shall find behind this Corona madness.
Clearly, I am hovering in the sadness stage. I don’t believe I have gone through the anger and bargaining stages but I’ve definitely been at the denial stage. Before March 13, as was the case with many Kenyans, Corona was a problem for other nations. While I was not so naive to think the virus does not affect Africans or that GOK was making a mountain out of a molehill for the millions of dollars in donor funding, it did seem to be a far-fetched problem. Even when the President announced closure of schools, I wondered why and thought the children, especially those in boarding schools were better of there! Thank God nobody asked for my opinion!
Kessler does make the point that the grief stages aren’t linear and may not happen in the order as stated above. Personally, I rarely get angry, choosing instead to avoid the situation or find other coping mechanisms. COVID-19 and its repercussions have yet to make me angry. While there is boredom and I do miss my usual activities and routine due to the quarantine measures, I don’t see myself rashing out at anyone or anything. But then again, Corona is a new phenomenon for everyone. Maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon lest this quarantine be the straw that broke the camel’s back!
Anywho, these grief stages reminded me of the SARAH model of change, which defines the stages majority of people go through as they adapt to change. They include shock, very closely related to denial. Then there’s anger (with all the changes humans must contend with, is it a wonder there are so many angry people in this world?). Next comes resistance (read bargaining), then acceptance and finally hope.
You see the pattern here? Grief and change may well be twins. As humans, we go through the same emotions when dealing with life-altering events. My employer has just come out of a huge corporate merger and many of the employees were and are still grappling with the change. Then Corona saunters in and disrupts things even further! Over and above putting faces to names of colleagues you must work with everyday, learn new systems and processes, I must also learn how to use tools like Zoom and WebEx to manage my telecommute. Not forgetting the risk of loss of livelihoods as companies cut back. I am definitely overwhelmed but not angry!
Which means I need mechanisms to build resilience and learn to live in this space at the door of acceptance and hope. Accepting and hoping that it’s going to be okay. That I will get through this. To learn to live peacefully in this tenuous space.
In an earlier book co-authored with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Kessler wrote:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
The Corona virus is mine and your opportunity to write our names on the wall of beautiful people. People who will, when this danger is passed, be described as stronger than all our fears combined. A people who will grieve their losses without forgetting to live with grace, dignity and love in every step. A people who will not lose hope but will fight the enemy of their time with all their might in order to leave a better world for future generations.
Writing this filled me with hope. That I am going to be okay. That we are going to be okay. True, there is turbulence ahead but we can weather it. Why? Because beautiful people do not just happen. They are made. Made by their resilience in times of loss, failure, sadness; from being to hell and back.
I am hopeful of a world surrounded by beautiful people. Therefore, I know it is going to be okay.