One of the unintended constructive outcomes of COVID-19 has been the trying of new traditions or new ways of being and doing. At a time when each new day looks and feels a lot like the day preceding, experiencing even the smallest of newnesses can be a breath of fresh air. And so it was recently when I decided to go for a run in an area I sort of knew, but not totally.
It was perfect running weather: blue sky, low humidity, and my body felt more like it was swimming than running. It was just easy. Endorphins flowing, I decided to run down a gravel path I'd never noticed until today. I knew I wasn't too far away from home, so even if I got a little lost, it wouldn't be for long. Besides, that's what phones are for, right?
After a while, the gravel path wound to the left, and suddenly stopped in front of a small , grassy hill. "Why did it stop," I wondered. "Does it pick up again?" "Why here?" "Why now?" As these questions surfaced, I realized there was a ring of familiarity to them. I'd been asking those same questions about something else- the global pandemic. Of course an interrupted running path pales in comparison to the collective halting of everyone and everything due to a "wee little beastie" called COVID-19. Like most people around me, my work dried up and projects dreamed about months ago were gone. All of the milestones that normally indicate the passage of time through a school year for my family never happened. Weekends lost all meaning. And there was no end in sight. No one could see what was over this strange, uncertain "hill." Much like the grassy void I was now facing on my run.
"Nevermind that," I thought, "let's see what happens when I cross this field of grass."
Cautiously, I walked up the small incline, unable to see what was ahead. This experience too was familiar. Each step I took symbolized the way in which I had been treading lightly from day to day, moment to moment for the past several weeks. We didn't dare go anywhere without having the shield of information that normally was there to protect us in modern life. Without information, not only can we not make decisions, we don't even know what our options are for taking action! Therefore, we don't take action. We are STUCK.
In life, we get STUCK for all kinds of reasons, right? We listen to stories we tell ourselves (I'm not good enough. I don't deserve that. It'll just happen the same way it did last time), and we stay small and we shelter in place. Much like we do in a pandemic, as it turns out.
Every step up the hilly void gave me a little more perspective, much like the way information about the virus was unveiled in news outlets, Facebook posts, and in every telephone and Zoom conversation with friends and family. But the little tidbits of information planted more questions than harvested answers. It was and still is uncomfortable not knowing. Where is the path forward? What to do in this grassy void? I noticed many musician friends finding ways to continue performing on various digital platforms, trying to create some semblance of normalcy. I too dabbled in online performing and also devoted myself to writing, an activity that grounds me and gives me purpose, even if it is illusory.
After walking and reflecting on all of these developments, I reached the top of the hill and could see where the path picked up again! Yippee! Forward progress. Back to "normal."
Being able to see a path is so reassuring, especially if you have been steeping in uncertainty for a while. Whether you're navigating life or running on new-to-you trails, having something to follow sets your mind at ease and provides energy to keep moving forward. When Governor Whitmer of Michigan said we could get back to public life, carefully, minimally, and mindfully, it was a welcome sign that the efforts made by fellow citizens were making a difference. Maybe we were starting to see a way through this thing after all! We were taking the path that was correct, purposeful, and right for us. And it felt so good to take actionable steps!
I enthusiastically resumed my run, feeling overjoyed by the discovery of this new path. As I ran, however, I realized it was making me veer to the left when my sense of direction told me that I needed to go to the right. Uh oh. Should I keep going or turn around? If I kept going, I risked depleting my energy and getting further away from home than I wanted to be at that point in the run. My decision to simply resume this easy-to-see path reminded me of when the Governor lifted the stay-at-home orders. Some people decided it was time for house parties, going to bars, and congregating at beaches, perhaps a little too soon. As we see cases of Coronavirus go up once again, should we keep trying to return to public life? What about sending our kids to school? Do we go back to sheltering-in-place? What to do?
In life, we might see a path after a time of being STUCK, but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to take it. Although it might get us moving once again, and it feels so good to get moving after being STUCK for a while, we realize pretty quickly that the path we could "see" wasn't necessarily the path to "be." When I was in College, I worried that a performance career wasn't right for me. I had no proof to go on, just my worries and fears. I couldn't see the path, so I panicked and chose another path, Music Education, that I thought would take me in the direction I really wanted to go. One class in, the equivalent of a few steps down this new path, told me that I was headed in the wrong direction! So, I decided not to go that way and turned around.
Back to my run. After realizing I was headed in the opposite direction of my internal GPS, I returned to the grassy void. Standing in the middle of this space between knowable paths, I simply waited. It was a beautiful day. Nothing bad was happening in that moment, really. I was simply in the void, waiting for my heart to hone in on the next bit of information that would instruct me on my next action. And there it was. A NEW path. One I hadn't seen before.
This path went straight into the woods. Because this path was very unknown to me, I couldn't be sure that it would take me in the direction I wanted/needed to go. But I had already tried one way and turned around, so I was prepared to do it again if need be. But there was something about this new path that sang to my heart, even though it wasn't an obvious choice like the other path. It was sheltered from the sun that was now beating down on me, and there were beautiful things to look at and discover. "Why not," I pondered. Off I went, into the forest.
As I suspected, it WAS beautiful, more so than I could have imagined. It was also sending me exactly in the direction I wanted to go; I could feel that. Occasionally, there would be another path veering off from this one, tempting me to try it, but I decided to stay the course. After a little while, this new path released me on to an even BIGGER path. Actually, this was a road!
Maintaining my sense of direction, I knew I needed to go to the right, and eventually, I found myself connecting to the roads that I knew would take me home.
So, what of my little metaphor? We're still in the middle of this pandemic. In a lot of ways still in the middle of the grassy void. Our livelihoods, our sense of normalcy, our nests of comfort built from the habits we've developed over our lives have been tossed into the air. We don't know how all of this will land. We do know that it will land. And maybe we know what direction we want to go, but perhaps we haven't found the path that speaks to our hearts and leads us in that direction. But I KNOW it will happen. It happens all the time, or so history has demonstrated.
Personally, we have all navigated our own grassy voids. But in this time, we get to do it together. Isn't it just a little comforting to know that we are collectively staring at and facing this transition, this in between, this grassy void? I can't see what's going to happen down the road anymore than you can, but I'm so thankful to have company, because you get what I'm going through, and I can relate to you too. There will be a beautiful path that leads us home. There may be paths that tempt us but turn out to not be quite right. In the end, we will all help each other find our own path that will lead us to a larger road, a road paved and flowered by our higher selves, perhaps. And that road will lead us to the possibilities, the opportunities, to the solutions that will lead us home.
I am with you, friends, as we're looking at this grassy in-between, not knowing when the new path will appear, not knowing what kinds of adjustments we will inevitably need to make along the way, and not knowing HOW it will all happen. But it will. Because that's what experience tells us. Light and love to you all in this grassy void.