This is out of your control

So much of what is happening now is out of your control. But not everything. Kind words and supportive gestures can mean the world.

“How fucking bored are you? Working at your house, getting food delivered to your house, living at your house? At what point of the day do you actually feel like crying sometimes?”

This is Joey Diaz, speaking about the emotional burden of the uncertainty and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.* For him, the strains of lockdown life become overwhelming in the early evening, when in normal times he would be gearing up for a night of stand-up comedy performance. Diaz says:

“For me it’s seven o’clock. Every night at seven o’clock I wanna shed a tear. As soon as I hear the first notes of the Jeopardy theme I just want to put my hands around my head and cry. But I don’t. I look up and I go ‘You know what? We’re gonna work this thing through.'”

Everything is not OK

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I take heart and inspiration from Diaz’s determination not to let all this get on top of him. He wants more than anything to avoid giving in to his fears, so that he can continue to support his family and those of his friends and listeners who are suffering. But he is also clear-eyed that things could be about to get a lot worse for many people:

“I feel terrible for America right now. There’s people who are really fucking struggling.”

The emotional pressure is taking its toll. The money is starting to run out. Diaz sees a wave of evictions sweeping the US at the start of next month. Rent payments will be due on Saturday 1 August 2020. The additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits currently paid to many people in the US is likely to end or to be drastically reduced one day prior (on Friday 31 July 2020). Here are some words from a Fortune report published this week:

“With the count of U.S. infections passing 4 million and the aid ending, nearly 30 million unemployed people could struggle to pay rent, utilities, or other bills and economists worry that overall consumer spending will drop, adding another economic blow. ‘I’m going to be broke,’ said Melissa Bennett, who was laid off from her job at a vacation time-share in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. ‘I’ll be broke-broke. I want to go to work, I want health insurance, I want a 401K. I want a life; I have no life right now.'”

Everything is not OK. There is no shame in admitting that you are suffering, or in acknowledging that times are difficult. Diaz recounts the words he spoke recently to a close friend who has no choice but to close down his business due to the economic impact of the pandemic:

“I want you to know something. I want you to know that you’re a good, good guy. I want you to know that you provide a great service, you’ve done a lot of great things here. And this is out of your control.”

We have so little of each other now

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This is out of your control. There is no shame in admitting that. Faced with the huge, impersonal and indifferent forces that are currently reshaping all our lives, kind words and supportive gestures can mean the world. Kind words and supportive gestures always mean the world.

There’s a lot to bring a tear to one’s eye right now. The other day, tears came to my eyes reading a lovely and timely poem tweeted by my friend Emma Dixon. She shared a beautiful little poem by Danusha Laméris, entitled Small Kindnesses:

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Small Kindnesses

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead – you first,” “I like your hat.”

“We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire.” Laméris’s words were penned in 2017, but they feel all the more resonant today.** They could have been written with lockdowns and social distancing in mind.

So much of what is happening now is out of your control. But not everything. Small kindnesses won’t change the world overnight. But they might help their recipients through today and on into the next chapter of their lives. Small kindnesses can make a tiny but significant contribution to helping each of us to work this thing through.

FOOTNOTES

* All words from Joey Diaz quoted in this post come from an outstanding recent episode of his The Church of What’s Happening Now podcast

**  My quotation of Danusha Laméris’s poem comes from the Women’s Voices for Change website, which also hosts the following words from Laméris on how and when she composed it:  “I wrote [this poem] in early 2017 when the world seemed to be imploding a bit, the country fractured in new (and old) ways.”

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1 Comment

  1. So true Michael – it’s something I try to remember (not always successfully) at all times, but it’s especially important just now.

    I especially like the line ‘what if they are the true dwellings of the holy’ – something I’ve been thinking about a lot of late. I know that, in this ‘situation’, many people have found great solace in organised religion – for me it’s had the opposite effect and I have questioned the value of that entire set-up. It’s often the small things, and particularly the small interactions, that matter most.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking piece. I hope you and your family are doing ok?

    Liked by 1 person

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