When Indiana shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I approached the “stay at home” orders with a healthy mixture of anxiety and confidence. Buoyed up by messages of hope and perseverance, like from Carrie Newcomer who made her song “You Can Do This Hard Thing” a mantra for our collective survival, I felt a sense of connection and hopefulness as I entered the pandemic-imposed isolation.
It also helped that for Lent I had decided to dedicate some time each day to practicing mindfulness. Little did I know how significant that focus on being present in the moment would become in just a few weeks.
My mindfulness prompt on March 17, just a couple of days after IUPUI closed down the campus, was:
“An ancient Chinese proverb says: ‘You cannot stop the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.’ Think about what this phrase means about being mindful. Write a poem or draw a picture that captures your thoughts about the phrase.”
Now, that was a challenge for someone who doesn’t consider herself to be much of a poet and even less of an artist! Nonetheless, I set out on my evening walk, thinking about COVID-19 as a huge flock of “birds of sorrow” flying overhead and contemplating what it would take to keep them from “making a nest in my hair.” As words starting popping into my mind – communication, compassion, open-mindedness, determination — it occurred to me that the letters that make up COVID itself just might give us all the answers we need. When I got back from my walk, I created this “Not-in-My-Hair” shield.
The shield reinforced my feelings of hopefulness – it gave me confidence that it just might be possible to turn what has been lost into new life and to transform despair and fear into new beginnings.
Here we are, four months later, and I am no longer as convinced that “I’ve Got This.” I find myself feeling stressed by the resurgence of COVID-19 cases, irritated by what I see as irresponsible and risky choices that are being made by individuals as well as institutions, and trapped by travel restrictions.
Then a thought occurs to me. Maybe, just maybe, that “Not-in-My-Hair” shield might have the answers needed to get through the current situation, too; so, I pull out my Lenten journal, flip to March 17, and take another look at my “work of art.”
- Creative solutions and Compassion definitely are still needed.
- Open-mindedness and Organization certainly can’t hurt.
- Virtual communication continues to be my lifeline.
- Interdependence – recognizing that what each of us does affects everyone else – is critical right now. (And, for myself, I could definitely add another “I” word: Imperturbability, being able to stay calm and avoid becoming upset or agitated.)
- Determination and Deep Faith come together to give us the roots we need to stand firm and the wings we need to fly.
I’m still not sure “I’ve Got This,” but it’s good to be reminded of what can keep the “birds of sorrow” from nesting in my hair.
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About the author
I am a professor of communication studies at IUPUI. I recognize how fortunate I am to have a job that I can do from home during this pandemic. The other side of that, though, is that I have spent a lot of time at home alone in the last 4 months—and a lot of time in Zoom meetings!