Coronalone: Week 17 - The Meaning of Life... and Blueberries
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
"Coronalone". It's like "Home Alone", but without Macaulay Culkin. And without the burglars (we hope). It's our ridiculous name for the surreal and strange circumstances in which we currently find ourselves.
And we currently find ourselves reminded of the fortune with which we are blessed, even as this pandemic continues to swell throughout the country and the world.
I picked our first batch of blueberries off the bushes down at our beach on Saturday. Some were from the high-bush blueberries that Grandma and Grandpa planted years ago, but most were those wonderful little tiny, native blueberries from the bushes along the lake shore. An hour or more of picking only yielded a couple of cups, but the bushes are still laden with green berries, so we know there will be more coming. Mike made big, fluffy blueberry pancakes with half of the berries on Sunday, drizzled with maple syrup and served piping hot for our lunch. Oh, the sheer joy! It brought to my mind fond memories of blueberry picking from the rowboat with my friend Kristin, the smell of Grandma cooking breakfast in the kitchen here at the cottage, and Grandpa explaining how to tell which berries were blueberries, and which were not, by looking for the “crown” that each blueberry wears.
We live in a stunningly beautiful, natural place here at “The House in the Rocks”. We have lived here over twenty years, and both of us are frequently still in awe of the fact that we do live here. How did we get so lucky? My grandparents created quite a legacy with this place, and I hope that we are able to be good stewards of both the place itself and of that legacy. We have officially announced through social media that we are canceling our annual September party and suspending this year’s summer potlucks to reduce our exposure and protect “the moms”, which means that an important part of their legacy will have to be on hold for a while. When this crisis finally passes, though, we will be sure to resume that all-important part of their legacy, which is making the place open and welcoming for friends and family to enjoy.
We recognize that not everyone has the luxuries with which we have been blessed. Not everyone lives on a lake and can sit outside or on the porch overlooking the lake with their coffee in the morning. Not everyone has the resources necessary to make a batch of fresh blueberry pancakes. My heart aches at the thought of people in cramped apartment buildings or long-term care facilities, people with no safe place to get outside without worrying about exposure to the virus, having to struggle through this pandemic without the benefit of fresh air or the calm that nature can sometimes offer. And even as I write that last sentence, I think to myself that it sounds like pity, and that isn’t right, either, and certainly isn’t what I’m intending to convey. My heart aches for the whole world right now. Everyone, in every situation. It just feels important to acknowledge the privilege that we clearly do have, being able to work from home and pay the bills and buy our food through no-contact Walmart pick-ups. Being able to surround ourselves with nature without having to risk exposure to the virus. Being able to do what is necessary to protect our moms as best we can, and protect ourselves, too, in the process. So many people do not have that luxury. We recognize that our ability to do so relies on the selflessness of so many others, and we are abundantly grateful.
Regardless of what situation each of us is currently experiencing, I suppose that my sense is that it is important for each of us to find the things we can appreciate and for which we can have gratitude, because there can be strength in being able to see what is good even in the midst of chaos or pain. Not just seeing good, but also doing good, is even more powerful. If one can find a sense of purpose or meaning in the midst of suffering, it can truly transform one’s experience.
I am currently re-reading a book by Rachel Naomi Remen called Kitchen Table Wisdom, and in it she references Viktor Frankl’s book on the concentration camps, Man’s Search For Meaning. I read Frankl’s book in college in a class taught by Michael Fischler titled Multicultural Education, and it seems very fitting that I be reminded of its wisdom right now, because I think it is very relevant “in the time of Covid”. I’m not comparing what the world is currently experiencing to what was suffered in the concentration camps, but there are some lessons that can be gleaned, according to Frankl, that can be useful in our daily lives. Remen says, “The power of a personal sense of meaning to change the experience of work, of relationship, or even life cannot be overestimated. Viktor Frankl… reports that survival itself may depend on seeking and finding meaning. In the camps, those who were able to maintain a sense of meaning and purpose in their suffering were more able to survive the deprivation and atrocities of their daily lives than others for whom their suffering was meaningless.” She goes on to add that, “Meaning may become a very practical matter for those of us who do difficult work or lead difficult lives. Meaning is strength.”
We are all leading difficult lives right now, some more than others. First responders and frontline health care workers come to mind, but there are so many others who are risking their lives and their health and their sanity to care for their fellow humans. Those people are making it possible for us— and anyone who is isolating in order to protect their loved ones— to be able to do so. If it were not for workers at Walmart pulling together our grocery orders, for example, we would not be able to shield ourselves nearly as well— and by extension our moms— from potential exposure. Their actions are helping us to protect our moms. Everyone who wears a mask, everyone who doesn’t complain about things like the inconvenience of cancelled fireworks displays or not being able to go to a concert, everyone who is willing to be slightly inconvenienced for the greater good— they are all helping to protect others. There is meaning in those simple actions. Those actions are caring actions. When we are willing to act compassionately and modify our actions based on the needs of others, even if it inconveniences us, then we are finding meaning and purpose in the midst of this chaos and pain.
Of course, self-care is also vital, so finding joy in simple things and taking time to appreciate what we have should go hand-in-hand with our care for others. We are all worthy of love and care, so make sure you share a little with yourself. For me, picking blueberries and finding joy in those wonderful memories that came along with it were a balm for my soul. And hopefully sharing the story with you will mean that you will get to experience a little bit of the joy, too, or will at least be inspired to find your own source of joy.
Now... there’s still a cup of those blueberries left, so I’m off to convince Mike that he should make pancakes for dinner!