By Rev. Jim Innes
The isolation called upon in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 may limit the mind’s checkpoints used to stay calm and collected.
For example, good students finding themselves lost without school, competitive athletes finding themselves adrift without the gym, self-isolating seniors wrestling with increasing loneliness, home parents fending off isolation and boredom, laid-off workers underwhelmed by decreased activity (and overwhelmed by financial and emotional anxieties).
This list can go on, but the point is this, we may need to develop new points of reference in controlling our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
In Banff, where thousands of residents have lost their jobs, we find one such story. The pianist at an Anglican Church is ringing the church bells every day at 1 p.m. She is encouraging people to open their windows and listen. Her logic is this, “If we can all feel like we are doing something together, and mark our days, it might make us feel OK.”
The Mayor of Banff has shared that “the daily sound of the bells filling the streets has given her inspiration and helped lift her spirits during these devastating times” (Rocky Mountain Outlook). These ringing bells exemplify changing points of reference. They remind us of what is important, who is important, the responsible reasons for social distancing, and the knowledge that we are not alone in what we are experiencing.
A campaign in Troy N.Y. asks people to go on their balconies or open their windows and doors at 8 p.m. and cheer, clap or make some noise to honor those who continue to work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. Such affirmation reinforces a sense of community dependency. It displays a self-soothing humility that generates an internal reward. And everyone doing it at the same time promotes solidarity that defuses the aloneness.
There are many other stories, such as people putting children’s art on garage doors to give a smile to strangers passing by, and others writing words of encouragement on sidewalks. And others reaching out to help non-techies manage web communication. These stories, and their small but essential actions of empathy, represent changing points of reference that improve our well-being. They are creative responses arising from an unprecedented circumstance. And they call us to flex the muscle of our resilience in the arena of our loved ones and neighbours.
I am concerned for those who are facing more onerous burdens, for example, those recently laid off. They face many systemic problems. It will take much courage to remain hopeful and optimistic. Their need for a new reference point is undeniable.
I am also concerned about those with pre-existing mental health issues, for example, those with anxiety disorders or addictions. They are very vulnerable, as are the homeless, the elderly, and any who are already stressed by family problems and personal losses. This population will significantly suffer unless we can somehow reach out and comfort them as needed.
As I see it, this unprecedented time in history will create unique acts of creative resilience. As one anonymous writer states, “We are all on a hero’s journey through life, and if we want to find the boon, or the gift that lies buried in the abyss, we must be willing to embrace great difficulties that are a prerequisite to transformation.”
Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the Regional Ministry of South Huron.