It’s now been two months or more since we first heard about the corona-19 virus, and it has been around a month since the shelter at place practice became widely encouraged and eventually required. Cathy and I, as an initial personal response, have been in self quarantine now for over a month. The relative suddenness and the global pervasiveness of the virus's impact is way beyond extra-ordinary; we now inhabit an alternative universe.
After absorbing the initial shock and accepting the seriousness of the situation, we all began various adaptations to our lifestyles and routines. We learned to shop differently, or not at all. We established schedules for ourselves and our family. Our to do lists include names of folks we want to contact, some we haven’t been in touch with for some time,. We watch the news and study how to protect ourselves as best we can from the virus. We try to take in empathically the enormity of the death tolls and the dislocations and suffering the pandemic is causing throughout the world. And we hold in prayer and humble appreciation the heroic medical staffs, first responders and other service providers who are risking their lives for our welfare.
For most of us now we have reached the stage of what may aptly be called “hunkering down.” Hunkering down is actually called a verb phrase and is defined in the dictionary as “making yourself comfortable in a place or situation, or preparing to stay in a place or position for a long time, usually in order to achieve something or for protection.” And it is far more complicated than just sheltering in place.
I have two categories that describe my "hunkering down." One is the practical and the other is coming to grips about what this all means to our way of life, personally and culturally, especially in the face of so much pervasive death and change.
The practical category includes "making myself as comfortable in this place and situation.” Although I go through moments of anxiety and vulnerability, I am also aware of how fortunate and protected I am relative to the huge majority of the rest of the world, even to the point of guilt for my good fortune. But I still ask what is required of me to be as safe as possible. We all know the litany by heart: wash your hands, stay home, take care of your health, etc. Like most of you I have fallen into a particular rhythm of the day: good breakfast, extra quiet time in the morning with reading time, scheduled Zoom conversations, lots of screen time with emails and various sources of information related to the impact of the virus, an afternoon walk, early dinner if possible, evening Zoom meetings as scheduled, and a last brush with the news before going to bed (mistake?). A bonus in all the rest of the uncertain times are those unexpected intimate video sessions on FaceBook or Zoom with grandkids and friends. Most of these interfaces are personal, but I am increasingly comfortable with the group Zoom meetings as well. (Isn’t it interesting to sit and see everyone up so close. Look how my friends have aged. Aren’t I fortunate to have such loving and capable friends that I see arrayed before me? Is that really me?)
The second aspect of “hunkering down” is the larger more thoughtful process of trying to settle into a new world of meaning-making that accommodates the need to “prepare to stay in a place or position for a long time, usually in order to achieve something or for protection.” The stark goal of our lives these days, of course, is to survive amidst the very real possibility of contracting the disease and dying. It is sobering. Cathy and I have been revisiting and discussing our requests for handling our bodies after death and our memorial services in addition to our estate wills as well as our “spiritual living wills” that provide a spiritual or philosophical legacy for our heirs. The naive assumption we make, even in our aging, is that we will live for "quite a while yet” and we’ll deal with end of life things "when we have to.” Buddhism, common sense, and respect for those who will follow us admonish us to hold our death as an essential part of life, to plan for it, and to use its reality as a means to deepen our spiritual lives even as we enjoy life now. May the virus provide us incentive to dig deeper into the meaning of our lives, perhaps through journalling or “fireside chats” about the what really matters in our lives with our partners, families and friends.
Hunkering down well is possible because we are creative and adaptive people. I am constantly impressed with the human capacity to deal with the stresses of our lives, especially in crises, often with great difficulty, of course, but with a resiliency that is often surprising. Being surrounded by loved ones and friends - virtually or otherwise - also provides our need to be in contact, to support and to care for one another. We need each other in general, and even more so when so much of life is so difficult and uncertain.
Go well, kindly and in peace in the living of these remarkable and often unimaginable days,