At the close of a brilliant blue-sky summer-warm April afternoon, a heavy thunderstorm swept across my state, pelting us with hail and hurtling branches across yards.
We stared in awe at Zeus-explosive lightning strikes that flashed and boomed, backlighting trees that swayed like storm-tossed ship masts, nearly snapping.
After a series of mighty cracks, the power went out and stayed out for eight hours. Cell service, too.
During the strangest season of a lifetime, when staying informed and connected relies on a functioning Internet, we were completely cut off from the world for…we didn’t know how long.
The storm felt even more ominous in total darkness. Wind gusts smacked limbs against the roof in haunting thumps and scrapes, like zombies clawing the shingles. We lit candles and sat in our family room, hoping the sliding glass door wouldn’t blow in and spew shards of glass across the room.
We settled in but couldn’t rest. On high alert, we remained poised to head to the basement if we heard tornado sirens go off. My husband grabbed a headlamp he uses when camping and handed it to my son, who needed to finish studying for a pre-calc test.
I remembered some blizzards of my youth, when the power would go out on the farm for a few days—once for an entire week—and we’d use kerosene lamps for light and the wood stove for heat.
I’d feel a sense of awe and fear and excitement that, for a stretch of time—and who knew for how long—life suspended in an awkward space of uncertainty where we were forced to rethink the days and invent solutions to complete basic tasks.
Eventually the power would return to the farm. We’d flip on lights and the TV. Country roads would be cleared and the school bus would show up at my driveway.
Back to normal.
I thought of that blizzard while staring out our sliding glass door.
After about an hour, the fiercest elements of the storm subsided, though rain continued to pour down, overflowing gutters clogged by debris. In the quiet, dark house, we felt our way along the walls to our bedrooms, listening for each other’s voices. My husband set an alarm to wake up every few hours throughout the night to empty the brim-full sump pump, which wasn’t able to do its job without electricity.
Early the next morning, our power returned. We flipped on lights and reset our clocks and the WiFi router. The sump pump turned on and emptied the tanks.
Back to normal.
Except…it’s not normal.
This isn’t a blizzard, and the bus didn’t show up for students in our neighborhood. My son took his pre-calc test at the kitchen table and uploaded it to a website for his math instructor to grade.
Back to our abnormal normal, I guess, or whatever we’ve created within this shelter-at-home pandemic reality, its own silent storm.
I started six or seven different ideas for this post, but they all fell flat; they seemed inappropriate in one way or another.
Hopeful, encouraging input seemed like it would make light of readers who are fearful or frustrated. So I held off, wanting to respect that not everyone is ready to map out a social media strategy or draft a short story.
Fun ideas celebrating the creativity of quarantined humans across the planet seemed to make light of the intensity and suffering so many are facing. I had collected links to amusing and ambitious projects but stopped, unable to share. I knew friends who were sick or caring for the sick, and it seemed tone deaf to send that out.
But the other extreme also seemed like a strange choice; highlighting suffering seemed too heavy and melancholy for readers who might be seeking an emotional escape. Sometimes I want to just laugh a little; sometimes I want to avoid the weight of the news.
Suggestions for being productive? That felt, I don’t know…exhausting…too hard to attempt or sustain. I watch all these people hopping on Instagram Live offering their recommendations to be a voice of leadership during this crisis and it’s just…I’m impressed. And I wish I could have had that gumption—that vision—to be a voice like that for you. Some mornings I’d wake to feel a surge of energy and it would last a day or an afternoon, only to be followed by a slump. How could I preach confidence or productivity if I couldn’t keep it going myself?
So I’d continue to draft something, then stop, abandoning that idea and trying another. Starting it, then stopping. Starting, stopping. And finally…I just stopped.
I couldn’t find words for you, my friend.
I could answer questions posed by my one-on-one clients. I have some writing programs going as group coaching and I could help them with specific challenges. But I couldn’t land on a coaching truth that seemed universally helpful, regardless of circumstances—or at least within these circumstances.
I mentioned this to my family when we FaceTimed on Easter. My daughters said I should go ahead and share the fun ideas, like John Krasinski’s Some Good News. They said to go ahead and share the fun links I found. They thought the posts highlighting creativity across the globe would be a fun diversion. “People need to know they can take a break. You can tell them that!”
One of the kids suggested I share all the ways people are helping other people. Her boss is working to get Chromebooks and Internet access to kids in the city whose families can’t afford them, so they can continue taking classes organized by schools that have turned to virtual instruction. “People might enjoy seeing how others are helping in creative ways—it shows how we can help in whatever way we can.”
One of them said, “People are going to be in different places, so maybe just encourage everyone to find what they need on any given day…and to know they can just be okay with that.”
They each chimed in. “You can tell them it’s okay to laugh and to cry, to be productive and to sleep.”
So here I am, with a word from all of us.
We’re all going to be in different places on any given day. We may feel energized and creative one day, and defeated and discouraged the next. We may swing from one extreme to the other in a single afternoon.
It’s okay to laugh and to cry, to be productive and to sleep.
We may feel a sense of awe and fear and excitement, as, for a stretch of time—and who knows for how long—life is suspended in an awkward space of uncertainty where we’re forced to rethink the days and invent solutions to complete basic tasks.
At any given moment, find what you need and write what you can, without feeling pressured to perform or produce. If you can’t write a single word, relax. Fall silent awhile.
But if you feel the energy to create, then write your heart out.
We’re all staring in awe at the storm of the century exploding all around us. We’re trying to settle in, but it’s hard. We’re on high alert; we remain poised to react, but from one day to the next we’re all just feeling our way around in the dark.
Be silent when you need to; read, rest, reflect.
Write what you can, when you can.
Let’s listen for each other’s voices and find our way through, together.