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Dead or Alive?

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Today, my typical walk to the park turned into a full blown metaphorical moment. This doesn’t feel like an unusual occurrence for me, as someone who spends most of the time living in her head.

I forced myself to head outside and get some fresh air after spending hours in my stuffy room. I told myself it would benefit my mental sanity. I hoped a change of scenery might bring some relief to my anxiety, which has skyrocketed over the past few days. And I am grateful that today I managed to have the energy to make myself look normal, put on real shoes, and leave the house.

I left with an open mind, to notice and explore the nature around me. I was so anxious that I ended up walking in circles. I was also desperately looking for something beautiful to photograph. But everything around me seemed so dead. All the trees were dead. The grass appeared brown. The birds were nowhere in sight. The sky cast with grey clouds.

I told myself I would take a photo of the bare branches anyways. As I maneuvered my phone to get the best angle of the hundreds of identical branches, I noticed these tiny little buds. I don’t know anything about trees, for all I know they weren’t even buds, but that’s irrelevant at this point, because I was hit with a metaphorical insight. These trees are dead right now, but deep in there – somewhere - life is brewing. There is sap and other processes going on in the gut of the branches and trunks, preparing to sprout flowers and leaves in just a few weeks. They may seem dead to me, but inside they are filled with life that I cannot see.

Everything around us is so dead right now, literally and figuratively. The world has come to a stop. The Covid-19 pandemic is halting life all over the world. The streets are empty. The subways are empty. The buses are empty. The offices are empty. The schools are empty. The synagogues are empty. The playgrounds are empty.

On the surface it seems like our towns and cities are dead and empty.

But inside, our homes are full of life!

All we have to do is go in with a mindful attitude.

Once we pay close attention, we can see life happening. Cheeky baby smiles, scratched peeled wallpaper, messy unmade beds, and tall Lego towers. These are all proof of life.

Once we pay close attention, we can smell life happening. Chicken soup boiling on the stove, potted flowers in the living room, burnt toast in the oven, and dirty socks in the hamper. These are all proof of life.

Once we pay close attention, we can hear life happening. Clanking bowls and spoons, sneezes and sniffles, laughing and crying, music and podcasts, praying and singing. These are all proof of life.

Once we pay close attention, we can taste life happening. A scrumptious salad prepared by your spouse, a cheesy slice of pizza delivered to your door, a refreshing glass of water from the cooler, or a juicy piece of fruit from your kitchen fridge. These are all proof of life.

And most of all, once we pay close attention, we can feel life happening. Perhaps deep in someone’s home, a husband and wife are eating breakfast together for the first time in five months. Perhaps one Daddy down the street finally has time to read his two-year-old a bedtime story. Perhaps in someone else’s home, Mommy is finally home to cook dinner instead of the nanny. And in another’s, life may look like two siblings bickering over the larger cookie.

Weddings that have been cancelled and cut down to fifty or ten guests have extracted fierce love and pure joy from community members. Celebrated Jewish singers who were forced to cancel their concerts are arranging online kumzitz’s, connecting people of all religious affiliations, all ages, all genders, and all abilities from countless countries. These are more than just a proof of life.

They are proof that we are more alive than ever.

Life may not be happening on the streets but it is brewing deep in our homes, hidden from the public eye.

On another note, I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic is extremely scary and sad things are happening. It’s devastating that there are people in the hospital who are struggling for every breath. It’s devastating that people are afraid they may not be able to say goodbye to their family members for the last time. It’s devastating that people have lost their source of income overnight. It’s devastating that people in recovery from mental illness are relapsing. It’s devastating that people are stranded across the ocean, far from their families. It’s devastating that people are isolated together with their abusers. It’s devastating that people without life partners or without children are experiencing extraordinary loneliness and pain right now. It’s devastating that brides and grooms have to cancel the day of their dreams and that Bar Mitzva boys and Bat Mitzva girls have to cancel the milestone of their youth.

However, in recovery I’ve learned to distance myself from all-or-nothing thinking. I don’t have to eat nothing or everything in sight. I can experience two opposing emotions simultaneously. Not everything is black or white. Sometimes life is grey. And in this case, I’ve accepted that Covid-19 doesn’t have to be all bad or all good. There can be good things and bad things that happen because of it.

So at the same time that all these bad things seem to be happening, I feel permission to acknowledge that good things are happening too. That communities are coming together. That I have more time to spend with my family. That I’ve had a few moments to mindfully pay attention to the life that is occurring around me.

This does not take away from all the negative occurrences. The trees are still dead. They do not look beautiful. The cities look dead. They are not booming with success. People are sick. People are dying. But there can be life and beauty hiding somewhere.

And so I will pose the following question to you. Look, smell, taste, hear and feel. How does the world look to you now? Is it dead or alive?

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