By Kellie Schorr
I see you. Here you come down the lane with your bags packed and your hands empty. We’ve had such a party planned for you. Every day we hand 2020 an eviction notice and make more space for you to settle in and start something grand. You are the year to cheer, the host with the most, the butler of everything. Yet, let’s be honest—you got nothin’.
People who have Covid on Thursday night are going to have it Friday morning. The political chaos and selfishness that rocked December is going to be alive and kicking January in the rear. The economy wasn’t ready for an all-nighter and will likely sleep to spring. All you really have to offer is 12 new blank sheets on the calendar for us to fill with experience, vision, plans and paths.
That’s everything, isn’t it?
What can I give in return? We both know I can’t promise you much. Being in a practice that stresses my impermanence means I can’t even commit that I’ll stay with you all year. I am not interested in self-improvement, don’t expect to lose weight, and won’t really say that “walk the dogs more” is going to happen until the weather warms up. However, there is one promise I will make to you every day that I am alive and able.
I will ask better questions.
In Western Culture we have a history of asking wrong, or at least poor, questions.
- We start projects by asking “What do I need?” instead of “What do I have?”
- We listen to the grief or fear of others and inquire “What can I do?” instead of simply asking “Can I sit with you?”
- We look at dysfunction, disruption, and addiction and try to figure out ‘Why are people like this?” instead of compassionately discovering “Why are so many people in so much pain?”
- We start a new relationship asking, “What is it about this person that I like?” instead of “What is it about me that I like which responds to this person?”
In the words of Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, “You are so preoccupied with whether or not you can, you didn’t stop to ask if you should.”
If there’s one thing we can change as we make the journey from the garbage dump that was 2020 to a hopeful new year, it isn’t what the year promises us, but what we can ask in the year.
I can’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve heard “When Covid is over…” because I’ve run out of fingers and toes to count it on. The whole world is ready—so ready—to move on, to get back to business as usual, to put this disease behind us, to hug, to love, to live. However, “What am I going to do when Covid is over?” isn’t a good or even helpful question to ponder.
There’s no “set date” when it will end, and there’s no solid ground that suggests it won’t mutate, return or evolve into something more. Even if we are successful in wiping it from the face of the earth, we don’t even know what we will have to work with when it goes.
The better question isn’t, “What am I going to do in a world without Covid?” but, rather, “What has a world with Covid done to me?”
How has this year changed you? Did it make you more aware of the people you value, the freedom of movement, or the importance of toilet paper? Did you become a hermit, a helper or a hoarder?
Truth is, we are not the same people we were before the world shut down. We’ve experienced or have been in the presence of great heroics, and terrible irresponsibility. We’ve had to assess our own risks and face the tragedy of personal loss. Life is not an adding machine where you collect your experiences, hit total and see the final tally, then return to zero as if nothing ever happened. Before you list things to do when, take some time to discover who you are now.
“At this point,” my friend Andy said in October, “I don’t care who wins the election. I just want all the anger to end.” I was a little skeptical of the idea he didn’t care who won. Everything about him represented a red vote, in a red county, with bright red expectations. I nodded. I’m a blue vote, in a red county, with no expectation my vote will matter but I voted anyway. I did care who won. There we stood on the porch, two people with very difference lenses seeing the same problem and wanting the same thing—an answer for an angry, divided nation.
“Why are people so angry?” or “Why are we so divided?” are the go-to questions we usually ponder as we continue to watch family arguments and Facebook flame wars bubble up, exposing the ideological lava that undergirds the whole world. The answers vary and rarely help.
The better question is “What are we grieving?”
Anger is a secondary emotion; it comes from loss. A loss of safety or self- sovereignty is the seed of everything from work-place trauma to road rage. Lost jobs and dying industries fuel nationalist fires. A lost sense of confidence in the way the world works, shredded by constant change and call-out culture, builds a street designed to forcibly pull society to a comfortable backwards instead of expanding to a new forward. Generations of lost dignity and denied equality spark fires of rage across the land.
People on opposite sides of the political landscape aren’t just “thinking differently,” they are grieving differently. When you seem stuck in a political outrage or a relationship is stressed to the point of shattering, ask yourself, “What am I grieving?” or “What have they lost?”
It may not change the situation, but it will greatly increase your compassion.
In a world full of people clamoring to offer answers, the best promise you can give 2021 is the willingness to seek understanding, be open to awakening, and ask better questions.
That’s everything, isn’t it?
Editor: Dana Gornall
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- Permanent Impermanence: The Lost Art of 9/11 - September 11, 2021
- Be There Now: A Review of Cynicism and Magic by Chogyam Trungpa - August 18, 2021
- A Haunted Path: Can We Have Equanimity in an Unjust World? - July 7, 2021