Can beauty come out of the ashes?
That’s a question many of us are asking as we look squarely at the devastation the Coronavirus has wrought in our country. It really does seem like the world is on fire as we watch the death toll rise, the economy crash, and the grind of the quarantine drag on and on. The aftermath of this global fire, the ashes so to speak, is uncertain at best and leaves us with so many questions about what life might look like going forward. As I work with patients in the clinical office the mood is shifting from anxiety and uncertainty to hopelessness and grief about the future post pandemic. It’s easy even for the optimists among us to get concerned about what comes next. Are we headed for an economic depression? How long will it take for people to feel comfortable gathering in groups again? Will my children go back to school in the fall? Will we be able to enjoy simple things like a ball game anytime in the near future? The questions I hear every day are impossible to answer at this point and almost always focus on what we might have lost culturally and socially as a result of this crisis. But that’s not the whole story. Despite the reality of the brokenness of the situation that we are dealing with, I already have a deep conviction that we are all learning incredibly important lessons from each other in the midst of this fire. As a matter fact, I am witnessing beautiful things that are being birthed out of Coronavirus. Let me share with you just a few of the themes that are emerging as I talk with patients and other mental health professionals on the front lines.
1. Fire refines us as individuals
Most of us are familiar with the idea that fire is refining. For instance, silver is refined only one way, by fire. Purification of the metal comes only when the silversmith plunges the silver into the heart of fire, the place where the fire is the hottest. And interestingly enough, for those of us that are fatigued with the process of quarantine, the silver is kept in the heart of the fire until it is completely purified. It takes time.
As people have dealt with the challenges of the Coronavirus, it has brought to the surface many of the underlying issues that can go unaddressed in everyday life. Those of us that have struggled with control issues, in particular, have been forced to live in a situation where we have had very little control. The surrender required to function in corona world has refined many of the control freaks among us. It has allowed us to step back and remember that we can indeed function when we aren’t in total control of everything around us. That makes us better parents, better spouses, better employees, and just better people.
There also seems to be a refining of the judgmental heart that has gripped our nation recently. The polarizing black-and-white thinking, so familiar to those of us on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, is being replaced by a more compassionate inner voice. It’s tough to be dogmatic and condescending when even the experts don’t know what’s coming next. This has been a needed correction for us culturally that is hopefully maintained even once the pandemic is contained. It’s easy to be judgmental of our authorities for either overreacting or underreacting to the situation. The beauty will come as we remember that we are all in this together and that for the most part our leaders have governed with good intentions.
2. We are more than our “titles”
One of the things that has been truly beautiful to watch in the clinical office is adults and children reclaiming their identity apart from a job title or a position they play on a sports field. For the first time in years, young men who have identified themselves as point guards or goalies are beginning to see themselves as sons and brothers. Little girls who defined themselves as dancers are now learning that they are daughters and sisters. Men and women who literally could not separate themselves from their identity as engineers or attorneys now identify first and foremost as parents and lovers. I’ve also heard stories of children and adults trying activities that they have never even considered. Just the other day, my wife brought out canvases and paint that we had stored in a closet for years. My boys, who have traditionally identified as athletes who were not interested in art, then picked up paint brushes and painstakingly followed the instruction of Bob Ross’s YouTube videos to create some pretty amazing paintings. My little girl, who has identified as a dancer for almost her entire life, has learned to shoot a pretty decent layup in the boredom of quarantine. How beautiful is this: we can’t live the unidimensional lives that we have been living for years. And we are better for it.
3. Family is first
Of all the stories I’ve heard over the past several weeks, I’ve been most surprised and energized by how our families are reconnecting. Over and over again, I’ve heard people tell stories about unique and unusual experiences they have had with their spouse and their children. Many times, I’ve heard parents say they have spent more quality time together in the past six weeks than they have in years. I’ve personally noticed entire families, that I have never seen, taking walks in my neighborhood every night. For the first time in years, my wife and I have not been shuffling back-and-forth between the dance studio and basketball games every weeknight. Instead, we play UNO, or we watch a movie together as a family. In a word, it’s been beautiful.
It’s been said that you can’t have beauty without ashes, and I would add that you can’t have ashes without the fire. The Coronavirus has put us all squarely within the heart of the fire and there are times when this fire is very hot. But whatever you do in the midst of the fire, don’t forget there is still beauty ahead. And it is coming straight out of the ashes.