To the Class of 2020 during the COVID19 Virus

I’ve been thinking about seniors recently, the class of 2020, the ones who were supposed to be finishing their academic study this year.

Here in Shenzhen, we have a host of kids who had all sorts of plans for these months. Proms, performances, senior trips, final exams, walking and getting diplomas… all the things that seniors do, and have done for years.

And this year, those things aren’t happening.

This year, the virus has brought everything to a grinding halt.

My students are devastated, and rightly so.

This isn’t the way this was supposed to go down. This isn’t right. It isn’t fair.

And if you are one of those seniors, you have every right to be disappointed. In fact, I would go even further, and say that you have every right to grieve.

You have had an incredibly important rite of passage that has been stripped away from you. Grief is an appropriate response.

What does it mean to grieve? I could give you a dictionary definition, but to me – as a person who lost a mother very recently – it means to feel the ache and the pain of loss as a very real and tangible thing. It means to think about what could have been – what should have been and is not – and to feel such strong emotions about it not being that way that it hurts. It physically hurts. In your body and soul and mind, it hurts.

And if this is how you are feeling, then it’s okay.

You didn’t ask for this. You wanted to finish strong. You wanted to run the race to the end and look back to see all the people who cheered you as you ran.

But now, you’re trying to finish the year in Zoom meetings.

It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to mourn what you’ve lost. It’s okay to allow yourself that.

This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Even though if things had been normal you would have been complaining to be in school right now, it’s where you should have been.

But I’d also encourage you to consider this.

You are the graduating class of opportunity.

Sure. Nobody else has experienced what you are experiencing. Nobody else has lost what you have lost. But at the same time, nobody else has experienced what you are experiencing. Nobody else has lost what you have lost.

If you had had a graduation ceremony, the guest speaker would have spoken platitudes about what the future held for you. They would have told you stories about success and failure and possibilities. You might have listened. You might have applied those stories to some aspect of your life.

But the virus has stripped that away.

The virus has given you a gift.

The virus has revealed what matters.

The virus has done this in a way that few graduation speakers could have effectively done.

What is most important to you right now? Since you’ve entered your stay-at-home time, what has been most important to you? What really matters? Yes, you’ve lost the senior year accoutrements, but at the end of the day, you’re probably more concerned about the health of your parents, your grandparents, the older people in your community.

People. Our close ones.

You have more perspective on what really matters than any other senior class in many, many years.

It may be hard to see right now. Maybe you’re in a stay-at-home situation and nobody in your family has the virus. Maybe you’re in a stay-at-home situation and you’ve lost your grandmother to the virus but can’t go to the funeral.

Here’s the thing. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste your experience. Don’t spend so much time mourning what you have lost that you miss what you will need to do next.

Nobody knows what is coming next, but the undeniable truth is that YOU are our next. You are going to inherit this mess that we, your moms and dads, have made, and you are going to have the opportunity to make it a less destructive mess.

So don’t waste it.

And I’m sorry if this sounds like a lame graduation speech.

But it’s true.

Class of 2020, you rock. You absolutely rock.

And nobody – no virus or person – can ever take that away from you.

Life in China is returning to normal

Took the family for a walk to the grocery store. Got some Subway for Noah and some tofu soup for Koolyash. My daughter went on a dinner date with a boy. She’s still out now, and I’m readying my shotgun.

And social distancing seems to be a thing of the past, if this restaurant we passed on our walk is any indication.

Maybe it’s some form of PTSD, but I still can’t compute that things could be returning to an actual normal, but that does seem to be what’s going on here. If not for the ever-present masks and the constant temperature checks, nothing would be out of the ordinary on the streets of Shenzhen.

And I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I do want to remind you that it took us two months of strict social distancing, staying at home, and quarantine to get us to this point.

We did it. You can do it.

Onward!IMG_7090

Netflix and Chill

Here’s a big difference between living in China during COVID19 and seeing the virus running amok in a place like America:

Actually hearing about the people who are dying.

I never heard a thing in China. I never knew anyone with the virus, I never heard about people who had the virus, I never knew anyone who knew anyone whose lives was impacted by the virus in a direct way. I saw the numbers, but I didn’t see one social media response from anyone who was experiencing the loss of a loved one to the virus.

Now, I’m hearing about it.

Now, I know someone who has lost someone to the virus.

Now, I’m seeing on social media where people are losing family to the virus.

Now, I know people who are working the front lines, people who are working with people who may potentially have the virus.

Now, suddenly, after two months, it’s become a real thing.

People are dying, and we’re going to be hearing more and more about it. More messages about uncles and aunts and grandparents.

And it sucks.

And it makes what the rest of us are doing that much more important:

Staying at home.

Such a simple thing, staying at home. We watch some movies, we do some internet learning, we make some cookies.

But it will have such a profound effect.

It will literally save lives.

Who would have thought that binging Netflix would actually be a socially responsible thing to do?

But that is what 2020 has brought us. Netflix and chill. Netflix and chill and chill and chill and chill.

And after we’ve chilled enough, maybe this thing will have passed. We will lose people along the way, but maybe not near as many as would have lost otherwise.

Netflix and chill.

Smushing the Days • Quarantine Day 63

IMG_2252Day 63.

You’d think I would have celebrated day 60, being that 60 is such a nice and round number.

But that’s the way it goes during quarantine. The days smush together. I didn’t even realize we’d passed 60.

There have been days where I thought, “I need to go update the calendar,” and when I went to update it, I hadn’t updated for four days.

But I just updated it yesterday.

But that was four days ago.

That’s the way it goes during quarantine.

Prepare for the days to smush together.

There are little things that make the days feel different. Sundays. Sundays have always felt different. I think that we actually had family church time on a Sunday or two. Sometimes, though, we were in quarantine, and we didn’t really realize it was Sunday.

There’s schooling. In our house, we’re both learning and teaching. That helps give the days structure. But, because we’re all trying to adapt to this online learning model, it’s been hard to figure out the structure. In our house, I try to figure out the things our little one has to do and have it ready for him when he gets up in the morning. Technology being technology, this has sometimes led to me using – as Spock called them – colorful metaphors. Seesaw, Zoom, IXL… all things I never heard of or cared about before. Now they’re a part of our daily lives.

There’s the things we watch to pass the time. I watched all seven seasons of Brooklyn 99, and mourned when it was done. I’ve rewatched Firefly. I’m rewatching Curb your Enthusiasm. I did the Nic Cage thing. I download movies for Koolyash every day. I just asked her what she watched yesterday. She couldn’t remember.

That’s the way it goes during quarantine.

It’s the long haul. It’s allowing the days to smush. It’s realizing that you’re living Groundhog Day, but you’re doing it to save lives.

This is my experience. My family’s experience. We were stay-at-homers. If you’re an “essential” person, your experience will be different. But not your family’s. They’ll be staying at home. Smushing their days. While you are facing this thing full on, like a boss.

I don’t have any advice for this. Everyone is dealing with it in a different way. And I mean EVERYONE. We’re all smushing. Everyone around the world. Consider that for a moment… is there anywhere where people aren’t smushing their days and trying to beat this thing, collectively? Nothing like this has ever happened before in human history. A collective worldwide experience of smushing our days to save lives.

Start marking the days with a calendar and see if the days don’t smush for you, too.

Dealing with Anxiety during the COVID19 Outbreak

90566155_10219262275605877_6682479335980400640_nIt’s interesting to see how different people respond differently to a situation like this. Over the course of the two months we’ve been living with the outbreak here in China, each member of my family responded differently.

My wife has been relatively unfazed and upbeat, cleaning and re-cleaning the house and going to climb the local mountain with friends (all while maintaining the proper distance). My teenage daughter wrapped herself in a cocoon of keeping up with online schoolwork, chatting with friends on WeChat, and watching and rewatching The Office (comfort tv for her). My six-year-old has been in heaven. Getting to stay in his pajamas while doing his online schoolwork? Spending more time with family? Getting to play a lot of Minecraft? It’s a dream come true for the little guy.

And me? I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with my old friend, anxiety.

So, I know that this post will be hitting each of you in a different place. Some of you are handling it well, some of you have good days and bad days, some of you are not are not handling it well at all.

Looking back, I know I have not handled it well. So I’m talking to you as a person who frequently was unable to do the things I’m suggesting, but now wish that I had.

First of all, understand that it’s okay.

It’s okay if you are feeling anxiety or stress or an ongoing sense of panic. You’re sailing uncharted waters, with sharks off your bow, and storm clouds on the horizon. The fact that you are anxious is coming to you direct from your lizard brain, and your lizard brain wants to protect your lizard body at all costs. It’s okay.

You just need to get aquatinted with your anxiety.

81-xAaqioELWe have a children’s book called Anh’s Anger, about a boy who gets irrationally angry at his grandfather, who tells him to go to his room and sit with his anger. The boy goes to his room and his anger manifests itself as a wild looking creature. Over the course of the book, the boy comes to terms with his anger, which grows smaller and smaller and finally disappears as the boy comes to accept it.

So be okay with your anxiety. Come to terms with it. Accept it. Understand what’s going on with your body and why it’s responding with anxiety. Knowledge is power, right? To this end, I would highly encourage you to listen to The Happiness Lab podcast (https://www.happinesslab.fm/), which explores the science behind well-being.

But give yourself room to be anxious.

Second, and closely connected to the first, soak yourself in grace.

Grace for those staying home with you, grace for yourself, grace for everyone.

There have been times over the past two months that I wanted to toss each member of my family out of the window, and it was usually for something really minor and inconsequential. Spending so much time in a house together when you’re not used to spending that much time together in these uncertain times can lead to irrationality and short tempers. So be intentional about giving each other a break.

But again, this is about you dealing with your anxiety, so give yourself a break.

For example, forgive yourself if you indulge from time to time. You’re in uncharted waters, and if something will bring you a little comfort, give yourself a break. Just don’t learn to depend on that thing.

Because there’s a good chance you’re going to be tempted to depend on poor choices to help get you through this time. Comfort foods, comfort routines, comfort adult beverages, comfort smokes… be aware of what you’re doing, and ask yourself if these choices are helping your anxiety go away or just numbing it for a while, leaving it to come back even stronger.

I say this knowing how poorly I’ve fared in the poor choice department. I’m not going to go into all the skeletons I’ve installed in my closets these last two months, but I will confess this. Prior to the outbreak, I had been working really hard to avoid certain foods as a way to lose weight and work on my blood pressure. I don’t know how many times during this thing I’ve been at the store, seem an item I really shouldn’t be eating, and said to myself, “Hey! I deserve this! I stayed in China during the outbreak!”

Just be aware that “the you when this thing is over” will want to be proud of the way “the you experiencing this thing” handled it. Eating a whole bag of tortilla chips in one sitting (which I have done) will not make the future you proud.

But, give yourself a break if you do. Move on. Nothing to see here.

Third, be intentional on the way you spend time with your anxiety.

When I was trying to come to terms with my anxiety last fall, a good friend recommended meditation. As a Christian, I’d grown up knowing about prayer, but meditation? It’s not something most Christians do, although it is mentioned in Scripture several times.

meditationvFor me, it came down to breathing. Sitting in a quiet place and breathing. My least anxious moments of the day are when I’m doing this, and sometimes it can last for an hour or more (that’s the thing – we have time these days, don’t we?). If you are a Christian you can incorporate reading scripture and prayer into this practice, and it can really be helpful physiologically and spiritually.

I had an interesting experience last night. I had been unusually anxious for the latter half of the day, and when I went to bed, anxiety went to bed with me. Anxiety kept waking me up over the course of the night. I would sleep for an hour or two and then wake up being anxious about everything going on, and anxiety wouldn’t let me go back to sleep.

I breathed. I prayed.

I prayed a simple prayer over and over until anxiety and I both finally drifted off back to sleep: “Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over and over. This simple practice was all I needed to loosen anxiety’s hold on me.

Fourth, take care of yourself.

What can you to do improve the mood of the place where you are isolating? For me, it’s lighting. I’m a lamp guy, and so we have lamps set strategically all over the house. Also, candles. I have a candle burning by my work station constantly, and the flickering flame brings me quiet joy.

But not just inside, get outside (all while practicing responsible social distancing, of course)! Go for walks. Ride your bike. Don’t just hunker down in your house with your lamps and candles as if there were a giant rampaging dinosaur destroying the city outside or the zombie apocalypse had happened and they’re trying to figure out how to eat your brains. The good thing about this virus is that you can go out! Take advantage of what exercise, fresh air, and sunlight can do to help keep anxiety manageable. It’s also good for boosting your immune system, which ain’t a bad thing to do these days.

Fifth, stick with facts.

Don’t allow yourself to go down rabbit holes of conspiracy or conjecture or sensationalism. Understand the science behind what is happening with this virus, making sure you’re getting that science from reliable sources. Understand the reality of this situation in your community and how you can best respond to your specific context and situation. Understand what you can do to be proactive in not getting the virus and not accidentally passing it on to a host of others. Stay home. Social distance. Flatten the curve.

You can still go to the store and shop, but understand the precautions you need to take when you do.

Knowledge is power, and it’s amazing what good knowledge can do to help fight irrational (or even rational) anxiety.

9781250231987-usI would also recommend “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling. I read this book when the outbreak first began, and it really helped me get a grip on the anxiety I was feeling at that tense time. About where you are now, as a matter of fact.

Ya’ll, we are going through something unprecedented, something that our grandchildren will read about in their history books. Anxiety has every right to come for a visit.

But you have the right to tell anxiety when it’s time to go.

I hope this post has helped some of you do that a little bit better.

Onward!
Nate

PS – I am no anxiety expert, and so I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this subject.

Also, I know that some people have clinical depression and anxiety, and simply lighting a few candles and taking a jog won’t do the job. But still, I think some of these ideas could help. I hope they do!