If we dig deep, we can unearth wonder(ful) ways to survive and even thrive through this stressful time.
One of my harvest-time chores as a farm kid was digging potatoes. I had to do more than scratch the surface to find the potatoes growing below ground. Post harvest, we stored the potatoes in a wooden bin in our cellar, and they served as our main food staple throughout winter.
Today, with the challenges of the pandemic, I find myself having to dig deep again. Just scratching the surface won’t work. We need to discover—or rediscover—survival skills to get through this crisis—and not simply to meet our physical needs, but to the emotional challenges of fear, uncertainty, and social distancing.
Many of us are looking to spiritual and emotional survival skills to help us stay whole during this time. After reading a lovely book of essays, Wonder and Other Survival Skills, I started thinking about how wonder might help us through these difficult times. Of course, it’s reasonable to ask how wonder fits in with wearing masks, homeschooling children, and worrying about a job: How can wonder be at the top of a priority list when there are so many other things to worry about?
But after giving wonder a chance as a survival skill, I discovered that it has a lot to offer in helping me deal with the pain and turmoil of late by helping me focus on the beauty that still abounds in our world: in the dedication and risk-taking of our essential workers, in the music of people singing from their porches and balconies, in people making masks for each other and checking on their neighbors. Now that life’s hurried pace has slowed, I even pause to find beauty in the birds and blossoms in our yard.
And I’m learning from others—from Zoom meetings to text sharing—that survival skills can be embedded in art and poetry and storytelling, in long walks along almost-deserted roads, and in music played for an audience of one.
As a child, I learned to dig deep for potatoes. Working with a hoe taught me other lessons as well. I learned one such lesson in the cornfield while chopping weeds, which have to be removed so the corn can grow and thrive. Weeding row after row of corn is a tedious job. To shortcut, I found chopping the tops of the weeds was easier and much faster than digging out the entire plant. Of course, I didn’t get away with this. I had to go back and remove the roots. It wasn’t enough to just scratch the surface.
It’s a lesson that carries over again and again. In response to stay-at-home orders, I’m learning to sort the wheat from the chaff, discovering what things are necessary and which are not. I discovered that having less of the nonessentials (aka fewer weeds) opens up a space for what’s really important in our lives.
Five or 10 years from now, we’ll remember the horrible statistics about the number of people who fell ill and died or who lost their jobs and businesses. But if we engage in wonder, we’ll also remember and tell stories about what enabled us to stay strong through it all.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker has a poetry collection entitled Hard Times Require Furious Dancing. How true! Let’s use dancing and singing and poetry and many other expressions of wonder as positive ways to shore up our strength, our hope, and our resilience. Digging deep can help us through these difficult times and take us to a place of spiritual growth.
For more on replacing worry, read about practicing wonder.