The SAME DAMN lesson again.
why...why can't I learn?
"Mental health is a dedication to reality at all costs".
-M. Scott Peck (well...shit.)
Fifteen months ago, in the baby stages of the pandemic, I wrote a piece here in which I described how I was ok staying at home to “flatten the curve” because I was sure that when it was all over in a few weeks, I could still preach at the cathedral on Pentecost (2020). Then Pentecost (2020) came and went. As did the next event I was hoping to attend. And the next one.
I had hooked my hope on something in the future and as each hope dissolved, I’d find another hook. Until finally, reality sunk in.
I go on in that piece to describe the Stockdale Paradox:
An Admiral in the US Navy, James Stockdale survived 8 years as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison camp. When asked who of his fellow prisoners struggled to make it out alive he replied,
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart….”
So the “Stockdale Paradox” is the ability to hold two opposing but equally true things at once:
You must have faith that you will prevail in the end
And at the same time you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality.
I WROTE THAT 15 MONTHS AGO
…why….WHY am I still having to learn that same fucking thing???
I’m sure you guys are much better at all of this than I am.
I say this because right now I do not want to “confront the brutal facts of our current reality”. I want it to still be like a few months ago when the CDC said fully vaccinated folks didn’t need to wear masks or socially distance themselves. I want it to still be like a few months ago when I was finally able to say yes to some in-person speaking gigs. (Because I really miss my job).
But many of those events are now also cancelled. And hospitals are full again. And masks are coming back. It’s like we were unknowingly on a fabulous Rumspringa but now it’s back to farming and handmade dresses again.
Last week a friend said it could actually be years and years of COVID variants and various restrictions and protocols. Which made me want to never stop slapping them.
But I wonder - what is healthier for us: to keep acting and wishing and hoping it’s over soon and then having our hearts broken over and over - OR - maybe just assuming it is going to be years of this and acting accordingly. Planting gardens. Learning to cook more stuff. Meeting more neighbors. Living the life our dogs want us to live. Because then if it DOES end soon or even soon-ish, we get to be overwhelmed with joy and surprise. But if it lasts for years we are prepared (kind of) and able to live each day to the fullest possible extent.
I am just once again aware of how much my mental health depends on accepting reality. Not endorsing it, but accepting it.
So yeah…we can grieve this shit show. We can grieve our dead. We can lament, and fight and struggle. We can register our complaints. But let it all be based in a relationship with actual reality.
Because actual reality is also the only place where actual joy is to be found. If joy is delayed until a preferred future comes about, we set ourselves up for despair. But if there is hope in THIS day. Joy in THIS reality. This life. This body. This heart, then certainly we can prevail.
We can. We will. We are.
Be gentle with yourselves right now.
“This teaching is hard.”
- every disciple who was actually paying attention.
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