My dear friend—a woman who has faced more loss and heartache in her thirty-nine years than many of us will in a lifetime—masterfully dedicates her life to serving others.
I asked her about that once—admiring her nobility—and her response buoyed my hope as I faced my own hardship.
“It’s not so much that I’m noble,” she told me. “It’s that if I didn’t focus on bringing other people joy, my grief would swallow me whole. It’s not that I’m not consumed by fear, anger, hopelessness, and pain,” she told me. “It’s that loving others is the only thing I can control. While my entire world falls apart, the best thing I can do is serve others.”
My friend’s words seem all the more relevant now, as we face this pandemic.
Many of us are grieving right now.
Many of us have lost our jobs, our wages, our ability to pay our bills. Many of us have lost our routine, our structures, our sense of control and certainty. Many of us have lost our sense of normalcy in our households, at the store, and in our view of the world. Many of us have lost our health and even our loved ones.
Most of us have lost what once was. Most of us see that our world has changed, and we anticipate—often with trepidation—the worst that might come and what might never be again. For many of us, our grief threatens to consume us daily.
Like my dear friend, we can turn our minds, hearts, and intentions toward being of service.
We can write love notes and send cards.
We can shop for those who are sick or scared or otherwise unable.
We can check in on those who live alone.
We can sit with our families at our tables and tell each other what we most admire about them.
We can sit alone, look in our mirror, and tell ourselves how beautiful, capable, and lovely we are.
We can call our friends to remind them of what’s good in the world.
We can read stories and poems to people in our homes or by video.
We can laugh with our friends on Zoom.
We can cry and share and virtually hold our loved ones through their anxiety and concern by phone, video, and text.
We can write in our journals what beautiful things we’re observing and learning about the human spirit during this time.
We can turn to faith, whether in God, goodness, truth, or beauty.
We can choose to take actions that create and generate smiles, laughs, sighs of relief, and the sense that no matter how scary things get, we’re not alone, we’re madly loved, and we can get through this.
My dear friend, by the way, has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. So far, she’s outlived her prognosis by nearly three years. While she’s beyond grateful, she has days when all she wants to do is crawl into bed and turn off her heart to the world.
But she doesn’t, or at least she doesn’t stay for long in those dark places.
In fact, in her darkest hours, she sends me cards in the mail. When she lost her capacity to work and earn wages—and therefore her financial security, independence, and sense of accomplishment—she poured her heart, talent, and skills into volunteering: raising funds for nonprofits, tending to neglected animals, painting schools’ fences, and otherwise serving the underprivileged.
I’ve watched my dear friend celebrate other women’s pregnancies and become the most joyful, fiercely dedicated aunt and godmother possible, even as her heart shattered with the loss of her ability to conceive. I’ve watched her shower friends and strangers with heartfelt compliments, praise, and encouragement as they pursued and fulfilled the dreams she no longer could. I’ve watched her don facemasks, board planes, use all her barf bags, and fly to other states and countries to serve friends, families, and strangers in need. I’ve watched her give cookies to the staff administering her chemo and funny-dance from her hospital bed to make tired nurses smile.
My dear friend, it seems—no matter her level of grief and despite her immense mental, emotional, and physical pain—always takes time and energy to care for others.
My dear friend doesn’t get to choose whether or not she has cancer, and we don’t get to choose what havoc this pandemic wreaks on our lives (though we can stay home!). But we do get to choose to not let our grief swallow us whole. We do get to choose to love, to serve, to connect. We do get to choose to focus our attention on others, whether our kids, partners, friends, neighbors, pets, or strangers.
We get to choose. Again and again and again. Just like my dear friend.
And in turn, we get to create and generate beauty, connection, and love where we currently see none.
We get to choose. Today. This minute. Right now.
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