This blog features reflections on current affairs through the lens of my Quaker faith and practice and offers not only analysis but a perspective on hope, renewal, and reconciliation - a “lift”, as I call it - during these stressful, chaotic times.
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For the past several weeks my thoughts and prayers have kept coming back to the word “capacity.” During the last year of the pandemic I have probably had way too much time thinking about my aging and my concern about the diminishment of my cognitive, physical, and social capacities. And even more of a concern is the nagging reality that the pandemic has exposed the limited capacity of our democracy to deal with the political, economic, racial and medical crises we are facing.
Yes, I made it through the lockdown and the social isolation. And, yes, our democracy survived; and, yes, we miraculously developed a successful vaccine against Covid, and we were able to distribute it efficiently and effectively. And, yes, the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter movement has had a momentous impact on race relations in the U.S. On the positive side, yes, the glass has been half full, and I want to recognize and celebrate our capacity for all this resiliency.
Our ability to be resilient squares closely with capacity. The word “capacity” is defined basically as: 1) what we can contain and 2) what we can produce. Or more broadly, it is the “ability to use and understand information, to make a decision, and to communicate any decision made.” In the midst of the complexities of this past year one of the greatest challenges to our resiliency is how difficult it has been to trust public information and apply it to making good decisions.
Ironically, in spite of the vast capacity we have to retrieve and apply information from the web, I often feel I never have enough information, and I am then consumed with wanting more: check the political news every hour or so; double check the medical advice I found; catch the latest on Covid masking; or the weather crises, or racial news; the list goes on. Too much information, but never really enough.
In terms of our current capacity to “produce,” others tell me they also have made peace with coping with the limitations of the lockdown, but now the challenge is to decide what changes we need to make while also attaining and maintaining a sense of equilibrium and balance post-pandemic. I love the quote attributed to Valerie Kaur, the Sikh public speaker and social advisor. She says, “This is the moment to declare what is obsolete, what can be reformed, and what must be reimagined.”
So we test our moral and practical capacities to adapt to the time and space we have entered on this other side of Covid. Should we travel? Make repairs on the house? Reestablish an active schedule of entertainment and hosting? Establish better personal self-care habits of meditation and diet? Or simply, would our lives be better served to remember how much we appreciated during the pandemic not feeling we needed to “produce” so much and instead to be more content with what gifts and opportunities we have? What in our lives is obsolete, reformable, or needs to be reimagined?
Throughout our lives we have had to cope with varying levels of capacities in our lives. I think of those unsettled teen years; the career and partnership decisions during our twenties; and then the mid-life challenges of holding a balance among work family and community responsibilities, and still having some time for self care.
I am now into my elder years. And as was true in those earlier eras in my life, I have both enhanced and diminished capacity. Energy reserves come to mind in the diminished category right now! But I also now have an enhanced capacity to really savor life and relationships. I am less interested in storing up more information as I am in sharing the wisdom, experience and stories I already have.
During the pandemic I found myself surprisingly praying for more capacity, and I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. But as I did so I realized the reason I wanted more capacity in my life was not so much to enhance my personal life as it was to be able to offer support to others. I wanted a greater capacity for compassion, courage, clarity of mind, wisdom, vision, stamina, resiliency, grace, patience, hope, creativity, wonder, and joy - and the list could go on - so I could serve others. What I really want is the capacity in my later years to still be faithful and useful with the amazing gifts I already have. I want to be able to have the capacity to still be in love with life and to continue to have opportunities to help others and make a difference in my community and the world. At the same time, understandably, I must accept the inevitable restraints in my capacities and receive them with grace.
And I would wish for a similar expansion of capacity for my wider community, our nation, and the world itself. I know I can now really do so little for the wider world. But I believe I can be part of a network of support for others who also have a yearning for a greater capacity for love and service.