Interesting Times

Here we are together, you and I, alive in interesting times. We’ve seen the first parts of this movie. Long lines at grocery stores. Empty shelves. Bewildering press conferences. The steep slope of economic charts mapping the wild gyrations of our invested futures, our 401Ks.

Familiar routines are being scrambled as normal activities get deferred, postponed or canceled. Simple things get complicated.

We return ourselves to our houses and hunker down, keeping watchful eyes on the news which seems to come at us from every direction.

We look for leaders to help us discern what’s happening and offer some small sense of what’s likely to happen next. We’ve seen the movie this far. It’s scary. We want to know what’s next.

Here’s the thing: we can’t know what’s next.

There’s no predetermined plot line with neatly designed characters to take us together through this from crisis to climax to denouement in the space of two and a half hours. This is going to take weeks, maybe months, to get the sense of things and figure out a new normal.

We should expect leaders to help us through this. But we can’t just sit around and watch for those leaders to appear. Most of what happens next is up to us, how we manage ourselves and our relationships with each other.

We are already doing some of the right things. Low risk, healthy people are staying home from an abundance of care and caution for others. People are mindfully washing their hands. Companies are swallowing the sunk costs of lucrative events early on to keep more people safer longer.

We find ourselves together at the beginning of weird, interesting times. No one exactly knows what happens next.

Keep being kind and careful as we pass each other (from an appropriate distance) in hallways. Check your supplies to be sure your family has what they need and be mindful that what you have in abundance someone else may need in a week or two. Check in on each other to see how we are doing and what may be needed. Wash your hands.

Be kind to yourself. Remember that self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to make a cave of your home. It is still okay to go outside, take a walk, and breathe fresh air. Turn off your TV. You don’t need a constant feed of uncertainty. Be informed but trust that the important information will find you.

The Other Side of the Cones

I live just a little past the halfway mark of my town’s half marathon course, so this morning I spent some time at the top of my street encouraging runners. I had a few friends running but most were strangers.

One feels a bit awkward at first, standing on a street corner yelling at gasping, wheezing, pain-stricken strangers. They need air. They need water. They need rest. I’m serving out platitudes like “Keep it up,” “Keep it steady,” and “You’ve got this.”

One feels a bit like an asshole.

But here’s the thing: I’ve run that course. I know that by mile eight, your head is buzzing with doubt and worry. You hurt. You’re tired and, having done eight tough miles, you are wondering if you can do another five. You can, but you need to be reminded.

For a moment this morning I feel like I am on the wrong side of the cones. I want to be running in this race with them, but it feels good to be on this side, observing. These people are bothering to do difficult things they don’t strictly need to do. No one is making them. There’s no prize. They struggle, each in their own way, because struggle itself has value.

I admire each of them. The runners, the joggers, the walkers.

Many answer my support with a thumbs up, a wave or a quick thanks. At mile eight, every breath becomes precious. Any acknowledgment is a gift they give to me. And I quickly feel a lot less like an asshole.

I am noticing that thoughts are like viruses. They travel easily and quickly colonize a host. Good thoughts supplant bad thoughts.

Encouragement matters. Not always big, grand gestures. Sometimes just standing at a street corner, noticing someone’s effort, giving them a better thought than whatever is happening in their head at the moment.

Keep it up. Keep it steady.

You’ve got this.