This virus has not only brought an illness; it has brought to light other illnesses of society and spirit.
Everything is spinning these days. What seemed like solid societal ground is no longer underfoot, as a virus too small to see becomes too vast to deny. Here in the rural Oregon territories, its direct effects aren’t as focused as in the urban hotspots (so far). Yet the rural safety nets were already far thinner than most in the cities see. There are few doctors out here; the one remaining rural hospital is endangered. Other social services are also vanishing, and many already struggled to keep a roof overhead. Another common name for “essential” work is “poorly paid,” and much work is suddenly gone, most of it essential to someone.
The lilacs are as beautiful as ever, however—no matter that last year’s extreme storms broke their spines. The one I successfully propped up with metal supports is radiant in vibrant purple. The other, whose supports failed to hold, is horizontal and grounded. Yet it’s sending out new vertical shoots through each segment of every broken branch, finding life in new conditions without pause or complaint.
Beyond the essential nature of doing, though, is also the essential nature of being. To become better within and with each other is equally essential now.
The lilacs help me notice another aspect of essential work, as I feel my own spine tested by the recent pressures of living. Yes, I too celebrate the essential work of doctors, nurses, caregivers, grocery store clerks, on down the line. Beyond the essential nature of doing, though, is also the essential nature of being. To become better within and with each other is equally essential now. This virus has not only brought an illness; it has brought to light other illnesses of society and spirit. More than ever, healing will be a multi-faceted pursuit: not just physical, but emotional, spiritual, relational, environmental and systemic.
How to bloom now, and how to better support each other in blooming? It’s a pressing personal and collective question. For me, the intense stress of recent times—including guiding my mother’s dying process during lockdown—has challenged my strength in all I am and give to others. Others’ stresses have affected what they’ve given and been as well. Apologies and healings, new strategies of kindness and compassion and growth, are vital for all of us.
With parts of the world on pause, there is more room for inner voices to be heard. I know I’ll find my essential work’s direction in the stillness of being before doing begins. So I sit on the porch at dawn, listening to the strange mix of songbirds and chainsaws, marveling that clearcuts but not haircuts have been deemed essential here. Between the songs of tanagers and loggers, I listen carefully to the silence of the lilacs.
Caregiving is an act of celebration, which nurtures each other’s best traits while healing our worst.
I hear again that we’re all caregivers, for ourselves and each other. We’re all essential workers, in that way. Caregiving is an act of celebration, which nurtures each other’s best traits while healing our worst. It’s a remembrance that others’ shortcomings may mirror our own. It’s knowing that communication is more listening than speaking. It’s giving and receiving cleaner, clearer expressions of love in its limitless forms. Caregiving is long peace work. It is not a fight. It’s a practice, never over. It is not political. It is not a protest. It transcends skin color, nationality, wealth, gender, age. Caregiving does not destroy. Discarding the flawed would mean discarding all of us. Caring often means doing less, but being more.
Wildlife’s reemergence has frequently been noted, in this time when city dwellers are cloistered. I notice that our better inner nature is wildlife too, also free to come back out if we let it. “Normal” has had its own spine broken; but normal was gravely ill anyway. If together we birth a more loving normal, its life will become that of another essential caregiver to celebrate.
I admire the lilacs’ grace in striving to be beautiful without need for acknowledgement. I rise from the porch seeking to be the same. We’re all broken but blooming. The lilacs are another brilliant mirror of who we can grow to be, and already are.
This essay originally appeared as part of Celebrate What’s Right with the World, a project founded by former National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones, to which Eric Alan has contributed for a decade. Please visit celebratewhatsright.com for more celebration and gratitude.