Despite a medical emergency and an evolving pandemic we have had a gentle time of it here in Molesey, UK. As a result of unexpected eye surgery, our trip home was postponed, for a month. At first glance this was an “impossibility,” but that’s the beauty of the no choice scenario. It has to work, and therefore it does. It’s a bit like “stay at home” for the indefinite future. The words are only inconceivable, the first time around.
Our friend drove our car and our two big dogs from Florida to New York, as taking them home with her was their only good choice. London colleagues offered support and creative contingencies, even as their own lives were turned inside out. New friends and old friends checked in on our progress. We were all stumbling into uncharted territories. Thankfully the intangible called Civility is still practiced here.
Yes, it had its dicey moments. Room service trays became suspect. Towels and trash were traded at the door to limit everyone’s exposure. Two of our hotels closed, the last literally locked the door behind us. Another was volunteered for medical workers. The need for all of us to “stay at home” went from unlikely to probable to imminent across a few days. We said, “Yes, thank you!” for the connection of colleagues and friends and the silver linings appeared almost before the cloud showed up.
We found an AirBnB, a small house with a patch of yard, a sunny kitchen and friendly neighbors. Interestingly enough just a mile or two from Henry the VIII’s former residence on the Thames, 12 miles upstream from our start in central London. A food shop was walkable. “Who sneezed on my food?” was no longer a concern.
The materials of a comfortable “exile” arrived; in the equipment of more convenient work space, a hamper of exquisite delicacies fit for “the neighbors at Windsor” and the makings of a very favorite cocktail. Each reflected a particular expertise, a personal choice, all steeped in thoughtfulness. Safety and gratitude go nicely with a crisp white wine and good olives.
We have found ourselves sustained in our brief moments of homelessness with graciousness and generosity from a value system that once ruled the world. This experience could have felt very different. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs were met beautifully, and with good humor. We have been held in practical, elegant and memorable ways and we are very grateful.
We are here in the UK, ready to go home to Florida, I hope. The world has changed so much since we boarded the plane six weeks ago. I’ve been given the opportunity to look at the reaction to this pandemic from another culture’s perspective and from an alternative version of myself.
I was at a workshop in Scotland when I heard the eye injury news. I was packed up and sent off to my personal emergency with warm hugs and promises of prayer and connection. I was worried, fragile as a cracked egg, and yet I was absolutely confident that all would be well in whatever form it would take.
My partner was alone in an Emergency Department scenario, in a foreign- to-him city, shocked by the loss of half his vision and facing surgery. He was supported by friends and colleagues, certainly a safety net and I was on my way. But it was very stressful for him to navigate Taxis and hotels on one eye. It was an all new experience, but there was an end in site. He had awareness of the events of the world, but Covid-19 was not at the forefront of his mind.
Yes, both of us were experiencing an awakening to a frightening new reality, but our perceptions were different, because our nervous systems were in different states. Contrast this with the experience of watching the CNN report in our hotel dining room when I got back to London.
Amongst the shocking headlines of March 12, 2020
“We are experiencing a worldwide pandemic and President Trump has suspended travel between the US and Europe.”
We sat in the “still open” restaurant and ate the last dinners served there. The barrage from CNN on the wall was continuous, it could have been monotonous, had it not been so terrifying. Everything was repeated in a loop, over and over. For the first time, I felt the cold hand of fear on my neck and a cascade of “what if …!” possibilities rolled through my mind, courtesy of CNN US.
The Coronavirus pandemic will be a great teacher of many things, including what a steady diet of Fear will do to your nervous system. A daily or all day dose of manipulative Fear via news channels, and constant rumination on victim numbers and you will have fried your nervous system. You are awash in stress hormones and your immune system is stressed. Don’t take my word for it. Google: relationship, nervous system, immune system to find the expert opinion of your choice.
We need to evolve behind survival mode. I have seen smiling neighbors, friendly greetings from 2 meters, even openness. I like this reality better, the one that I can add to; the best that I have to offer.
It isn’t a question of who is right, as it is a question of what world do you wish to inhabit? What body do you wish to occupy? Perhaps the best motivator for coherent attuned action is concern for another, and the best antidote to fear is connection to others, without judgement. In this extraordinary time, this is my hypothesis and I am doing the research.
I’ve had a month to think about this. A quiet introspective month of “stay at home” activities in someone else’s home in a different town and country. There have been no overdue projects, no gardening or reorganizing the garage. It’s an extraordinary potential that I have always had, I just didn’t respect the concept of “being,” as much as I was aligned to “doing.”
We found an AirBnB, a small house with a patch of yard, and a good kitchen. It backs up unto a naturalized area called Molesey Heath. At 17.6 Hectares (44 acres), the entire neighborhood could go walking simultaneously and we would be barely within a “wave and a nodding” distance. Healthy calming activity for families and I have heard this questioned as “inappropriate or irresponsible in US venues.”
The Heath supports lots of sharp brambles and swarms of birds. Pithy Willows covered in thick ivy edge the ponds for ducks and visiting swans. Children and dogs remember their wild natures in open grassy meadows, as their parents follow along. It is well walked and very absorbent of excess anxieties.
And yet, the Heath has not always been so green. Its generative nature has suffered some hard blows and survived. In the past half century it was a quarry. That empty space was filled with people’s garbage, it was used as a landfill. Due to its continuing methane production, this land cannot be used for development. Its high level of pollution is what maintains the Heath as a green space. Walking this battle scared land gives a new perspective; it has been stripped of its structure, stuffed with toxic trash, and it still supports life. I believe the spirit of transformation has talked with me on my walks, and I have listened, I hope. “We are a whole lot tougher than we think.”
Our “keeper of the left brain” has an injured and malfunctioning right eye. His surgeon explained that visual improvement will hinge on the ability of his brain to modify the sight and his brain’s interpretation of this information from his formerly dominant right eye. It was a relationship that fit so nicely with his dominant left brain thoughts, like math and language. In order for vision to improve, a change in perspective must evolve. He will have to lean in to the right; into the land of creativity and expansiveness. I expect this means that I should lean to the left, just a wee bit.
After delivering this very mixed bag of information, his eye surgeon turned to me, “What do you think?” he said. “When the quarantine ends do you think it will go back to the way it was? When we were so busy all the time? I live out in the country and I am enjoying the time I can spend outside with my children so much. I don’t think I will want to go back.”
And there it is. This is someone whose nervous system is intact. He is able to ask this question because he feels safe and supported in his environment even though he is a “front line worker” standing in a hospital in London where any, or many people could potentially hold an illness that could harm him or his family.
How is it that he is able to experience an existential opening that potentially could alter his entire life, in the midst of this scenario? Because he recognizes that the illness is just the vehicle, for the inspiration. It is just the reason for change, we have to make the change ourselves. It is our job to be inspired to reach out and create a different life, if that’s what you want. If not, the elevator to normality is downstairs, on the left but the line is long and tedious.
Ask yourself-Does it make sense to constantly bring unbridled fear into the news reports everyday? Does it make sense to watch it?
The Virus is as unaware of the catastrophe that it is causing, as the people are who killed the animals that carried it. They thought it was dinner. To waste your energy on fear is to waste this opportunity to create a different experience, to evolve. And the price has been dear.
This illness is only the vehicle, it is the opportunity. Don’t get caught being stuck on the vehicle of transformation like a bug on the windshield. Don’t let anyone hijack your nervous system.
And let’s be real here, if only for this moment.
We hold complete disregard for all the other creatures that live here with us. We kill plants, animals, trees, everything without thought, or sympathy. Why should we think we are immune to an event like this? It is a very great privilege to be a human being, and it is an impermanent one.
The Heath told me this:
It’s time to tend your own garden. You could choose to enjoy this.
Take good care of one another, this too is joyful! Take good care of your families. Take good care of your thoughts, let them be expressed, gently.
Put your children back on your lap, put the dolphins back in the sea, read alot, and most important of all, love yourself.