I present you a tale of affirming and reconnecting with my sense of purpose amidst the anxiety and disorientation of all that’s going on. If you’re needing something like that (or at least a ray of hope that it could happen) then I invite you to read on. I considered keeping this to myself but figured there’s likely someone here who needs to hear it.
One consequence of the pandemic is that my core sense of purpose has been really thrown for a loop. Some of that is the huge reduction in human contact, some of it is disruption of activities and routines, some of it is worry about the future (mine/my family’s, my community’s, my country’s, my planet’s), some of it is despair over all the suffering people are experiencing, some of it is the disorientation of not fully understanding what’s happening (and just when it seems like I/we understand something, it’s often then time to pivot). In any event, it’s been hard to light whatever that flame is that . . . well, I’m not sure if the flame burns to motivate me or illuminates my path (if I don’t have a clear analogy, that in itself is a pretty good symptom of something being off, isn’t it?).
I have been doing pretty well from a productivity standpoint (one reason I haven’t been eager to telegraph any of this). I am grateful to be quite busy (since it means I’ve still got enough work for now to not be presently experiencing calamity on that front), and I’ve been doing a good job on balance. And I’ve been able to generate enough self-driven activity to keep “being myself” externally (i.e. doing the things consistent with who I’m trying to be in the world). But it’s been a slog and at times I feel as though I’m detached from something – like the me who is doing the thing or making the decision is using a disembodied version of me as the standard or role model (picture Noah asking himself “what would Noah do” and you get the idea).
I’m grateful to at least have that point of reference, and a good therapy session (on Zoom, of course) a month ago rescued me from abject despair on the “what am I doing here” front (there’s plenty of that to go around surrounding all the other aspects of this). So all else being equal, I’m doing great under the circumstances. But there have been so many internal and external impediments to the sort of clarity that usually governs everything I do, from big moral conundrums to seemingly trivial decisions that I want to align with my higher purpose. And man, I’ve missed that clarity about as much as I’ve missed anything short of being able to hug my kids.
Ah yes, my kids – turns out that my experience as a parent is part of what gave me a glimpse of that clarity again yesterday. Two related things I didn’t get into publicly for Mother’s Day this year are a) my awareness that it’s a difficult holiday for many people for many reasons and b) my particular heart connection to people doing the work of parenting without getting the recognition. This could be kinship caregivers (grandparents, aunts and uncles), stepparents, foster parents (whether official and state-licensed or simply people giving a young person safe haven), and other such variations. I remember well what it was like in our initial years of fostering our daughters, the years prior to going through the legal adoption process. I remember feeling very invisible, and while I’d never been much for those kinds of holidays up until that point, they exaggerated the degree to which I was viewed by others through a different lens than the one through which “real” parents were seen. And it was also an emotional lifeline whenever someone did see and validate that, whether explicitly saying so or simply treating us like a normal family and me like a normal parent.
So yesterday I reached out to a few women I know who are in that seldom-validated zone of non-traditional parent roles (most of them not tuned in to my writings, so I think/hope I’m not embarrassing much less “outing” anyone by writing about this) but who are doing the work of parenting. Unsurprisingly, they were appreciative, and one in particular made it clear that it was an important and well-timed bit of validation as she navigates caring for twin teenagers who have been in her care for several years through a complicated family situation. On one level my interaction with this friend was pretty straightforward (essentially a more elaborate version of “you go gurl, I see you” “thanks, I needed that”) but that was the moment when I was reminded of why I think I was put here, or at least why I’m so determined to stick around for a while.
So what’s the moral? I can think of a few:
1 ) If you know, even on a going-through-the-motions intellectual level, what actions are aligned with your sense of purpose (the last time you had one), keep going through those motions.
2 ) Being proactively kind to others is never a bad idea.
3 ) Even if you can’t find a cure for COVID-19 or ease the suffering of whole populations, there’s probably a not-that-difficult act of kindness you can engage in that will ease someone’s suffering to some degree for at least a moment.
4 ) Even if the specific goals you thought you had have been disrupted or squashed, there are likely actions you can take that remain aligned with the spirit behind those goals.
5 ) Hanging in there in the meantime is not to be taken lightly.
Likely there’s more, and likely I’ll have to reread this myself the next time my focus gets blurry again. In the meantime, I am grateful to have had an opportunity to reconnect with that part of myself and wish that for anyone reading this who is currently longing for the same.