Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Learning to be Contentedly Disoriented

During college, I worked as a counselor at a water-sports camp on the coast of North Carolina. It was a magical job. Days began with the bugle call of revelry and a sweet morning nautical breeze, and ended with the setting sun as Taps wafted over our sleepy heads. The daily routine — activity sessions punctuated by meals in the mess hall — provided a happy rhythm to those yawning summer camp days.

Until one memorable rainy stretch, when the faucet in the sky opened and refused to stop for what felt like weeks. Day after day we were forced to bunker down in our cabins, wringing what fun and entertainment we could from whatever was contained in those four wooden walls.

During that time, all of the familiar structure that usually gave our days direction and a sense of purpose was almost literally drowned by circumstances beyond our control. And it was exhausting.

I don’t remember when it finally stopped raining, but I do recall with clarity when the skies parted on my own cloudy disposition. I was hopelessly, fruitlessly, hanging wet clothes on lines already laden with damp ones, feeling saturated with a sense of defeat, when suddenly, almost impossibly, I thought of a fire glowing in our fireplace at home. That image gave way to another of our porch strung with merry, twinkling lights. Then another of family gathered around a festive dinner table.

And with that montage of happy imaginations, a flicker of relief gave way to a flood of hope. Oh, right! Outside of the immediate bubble of this time and place, there was, in fact, warmth and dryness and a sense of normalcy. Of course the sun would return and it would bring with it the familiar, happy cadence of our days.

I thought of that camp experience the other day. Like the relentless rain, the coronavirus has dealt us an uncomfortable disruption to our comfortable routine. Work from home. School at home. Stay home. Suddenly, everything feels disoriented, maybe even a little desperately so.

With no resolution in sight, the walls are closing in and, at times, I feel like I’m back at the clothesline, draping yet another drenched towel on top of the ones still dripping from yesterday.

But today we took a walk to the park and I spotted the brightest, most brilliantly red lady bug I’ve ever seen, happily tending to a flowering plant. I noticed how the water in the creek bubbled gently, purposefully downstream. I heard the birds singing and drank in the rich perfume of the hyacinths. I held my kids’ hands and I felt the ground beneath my feet. It was all a powerful reminder that life goes on.

Maybe this inconvenient but necessary life-as-we-know-it pause is less an uncomfortable disruption to our comfortable routine and more an opportunity to be contentedly disoriented for a while. Maybe this is a chance to reorient ourselves to the beauty of now and the hope of a brighter tomorrow.

After all, beyond the bubble of the very real stresses of this immediate time and place, life is happening. A sense of normalcy will return. And the sun will shine again.

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