These are undoubtedly unusual & trying times. The societal goal of “flattening the curve” has forced us, rightly, to change our daily regimens. This takes some getting used to, and in turn, creates its own discomfort.
I call five different people each day, just to check up on how they are doing. Each has their own perspective, and frustration. Yesterday, I chatted with an old Law School mate, “Bob”; he lives in Vancouver and he allowed as how working from home was a fairly easy adjustment. It was, however, his daily routines that were in shambles & he felt quite disoriented. I was pretty sure “Bob” is not alone in this feeling.
I asked my friend if he had made his bed that morning. He was somewhat taken aback! So I asked him to look up a speech by US Admiral William H. McRaven entitled “Make Your Bed”.
Later in the afternoon, I was working in our front yard and a lady passing by noticed the large heart signs on our balcony. She said she liked them: “I was feeling like S***,… I’ve been going a bit stircrazy in my apartment & needed to get out to see bits of positivity in the neighbourhood”. Once again I found myself referencing McRaven’s online article.
Admiral McRaven’s speech was the keynote address for the commencement ceremonies for the 8000 students of the Graduating Class of 2014 at the University of Texas. He noted that “It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status…. Our struggles in this world are similar, and the lessons to overcome those struggles and move forward – changing ourselves and the world around us – will apply equally to all.”
Admiral McRaven reflected on his 36 years of service in the US Navy, but used his six month Navy Seal training as the basis for dealing with all the crises that Life throws at you. He laid before a rapt audience, ten lessons that would help them as they made their way in the world. I believe the first lesson was the most important, even if also the most unexpected: “if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed!”
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made – that you made – and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
The lesson I was trying to impart to “Bob” and to the lady passing by our house, was that we all need some structure in our lives. We build our own daily structure over time and generally become comfortable with the way our week usually plays out. When there comes a “bump in the road”, it tends to throw us off balance, but we adjust and try to get back to things as they were.
The Corona Virus pandemic, however, cannot be viewed as a “bump in the road” from which we can return to the way things used to be. Its intrusion into our lives is enormous and ignoring it can, sadly, be fatal (if not to us directly, certainly to friends or loved ones). And we shouldn’t expect to wait a little while and then go on with our daily lives as we used to. Some of our daily, or weekly rituals, will be forever changed.
And hence the need to recreate our daily routines and give ourselves a sense of balance. We need to identify those small, daily tasks that instill a feeling of accomplishment so that we don’t succumb to the belief that our life is in shambles, or that we feel disoriented. Each of us will tailor those choices with distinct tasks that reflect our personalities & needs. For some it will be a daily yoga session, while for others it may be an afternoon walk (still practising “social distancing” please!). For some it may be an allotment of online coursework, or a commitment to reading at least one hour a day…or phoning five different friends, just to check-in. Whatever actions you choose, make them meaningful to you. And once you identify those tasks, complete them. Then pick another and another and another.
We will get through this pandemic. If we choose to channel Admiral McRaven, we will do so by accepting new daily tasks and completing them.
So to Bob, and to the lady passing by our house: make your bed…wash your hands…practice social distancing…change yourself…and change the world!
Originally published in the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper.