When I was in seminary (a.k.a. graduate school for pastors), one of my professors would fairly regularly give one of us the “it’s-not-about-you” speech when we were in times of distress (i.e. self-created drama). He would remind you firmly, directly, kindly that whatever difficult group project you were doing, or whatever element of a creative ritual you were leading, or interpersonal drama you were having with one of your classmates, was not about you.
The speech washed over me like a cold shower and chilled whatever anger, frustration or drama I was experiencing/producing and brought me back to reality. Standing in the cold and wet of the “It’s not about you,” speech, I would often remember that I had to look internally at what was happening with me, rather than blame the issues on everything and everyone around me. I would refocus on my values, like loving neighbor as myself, rather than my own internal drama.
This past week we celebrated Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who have sacrificed for us, for this country. But what I saw from some did not honor people’s personal sacrifice, by walking in their footsteps — it was a wanton disregard for others’ personal safety. In a pandemic that has killed now more than 100,000 people in the U.S. alone in four months, the people packing beaches, bars and restaurants and other tourist spots in the midst of a pandemic showed me that perhaps the whole world needs the “it’s not about you” speech immediately.
I get it. I love those summer activities as much or more than the next person. I love summer travel. Hanging out on restaurant patios. Going to parades and big festivals. Participating in triathlons. Swimming at the gym with my friends. Going to in-person yoga classes. I am grieving the loss of all that, too. (I am an extrovert, after all!)
Lest you think that it is some other crazy person’s fault that they are out in those places, exposing themselves, others, and, especially essential workers, to a potentially deadly disease, think again. This summer we are all going to be tempted to be “one of those people.” So here’s the process I’m going to suggest you take if/when you feel tempted to go someplace or engage in a behavior that doesn’t follow social distancing guidelines:
Pause and sit with the feelings of grief that arise with loss — personal freedom, financial stability, community activities. Feel it. Seriously. Because it sucks. And those feelings are real.
Remember your core values. How might you live those values in a profoundly altered world? What does caring for and loving others look like right now? (I bet it has something to do with wearing masks and gloves, and staying closer to home. But, there are other ways you can use your gifts, knowledge and skills right now.)
Hopefully from a calmer place, think about what is really meaningful about the thing that you are missing. Perhaps it is the connection to friends and family. Figure out a new way to connect with them. Perhaps it’s the fun and joy that comes from summer activities. Brainstorm ways you can make a new kind of summer fun.
Then do those alternate activities. Because it’s not about you.
What it IS about is how we might show care and love to other people. It IS about doing whatever your part is to relieve others’ suffering. We are going to survive this only if we can come together around this common cause, which will require that we give up some level of personal freedom, sacrificing for others.