It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
I read a news story the other day that really tugged at my mind and my heart.
When I first saw it, I was sitting in my office. It popped up in my news feed and I quickly scanned it then immediately got distracted by my work and moved on.
That night, while I was sitting alone on my couch, the same story popped up on my television. This time I let it sink in. The story was about seniors across the country dying from isolation and loneliness. As one death certificate stated, they are dying from a “failure to thrive.” What in the name of God is happening to our country and to us? I thought. I turned off the TV and just sat there staring at the wall, alone with my thoughts.
We are 48 hours away from a presidential election. Forty-eight hours away from learning whether we, the United States of America, will continue down this road, or change course and chart a new path forward. Everyone is anxious. Everyone is yelling, predicting, prognosticating, and betting on all this. Meanwhile, people are dying from loneliness and isolation all around us and we barely notice. And it’s not just seniors who are dying. The truth is, all of us die in different ways every day, just like the leaves that fall from the trees that we walk over or rake up. Every day, each of us sheds some part of ourselves.
Do you notice what you are shedding? Do you notice what’s dying in you? Do you notice those around you who are evolving or changing colors?
Not too long ago, I spoke at a conference entitled “Honoring the Journey of Growing Old.” It was filled with thousands of people of all ages. Those who were young spoke about how they envisioned growing older. So many said, “I hope there will be someone to take care of me and to love me. I hope I will not be alone.” And yet, millions are growing old alone. Millions more sit in loneliness, too afraid to tell anyone of their plight. The conference organizers asked people to “celebrate growing old.” I sat on my Zoom and wondered to myself, Is that really possible in our country?
Do we care enough to celebrate those who are growing older by the day? Do we have the heart to honor those who raised us, who fought for our country, who paved the way for all of us to be where we are? Do we know who amongst us is lonely, regardless of age? Do we know who amongst us is thriving or failing to thrive? Or are we too busy?
I wonder. I wonder who we will be this coming week. It’s a big week for our nation. How we handle the results will tell us what we really care about. It’s a momentous time, but I don’t think it’s a time to panic or lose your mind. This is a week for the strong and the open hearted. There will be plenty of people trying to spread doubt or sow fear, so steady yourself. Stay even. Let’s set an intention to rise above all that. Don’t panic if your candidate doesn’t win. Don’t gloat if your candidate does win. No matter how you feel about the outcome, think about how you can offer a hand in peace to someone who didn’t share your point of view or didn’t get their way.
People will grieve and people will cheer. People will laugh and people will cry. People will panic and people will be still. Try to focus on being still. Regardless of who you voted for, all of us will experience what Bruce Feiler calls a “lifequake.” Turns out, his research indicates that we will all go through several lifequakes in our lives. Those who have the tools to deftly manage transitions—and those who don’t feel alone—will thrive during a lifequake. Those who feel isolated and lonely will struggle.
The other night, I had dinner with a friend who told me she fears getting older and being alone. She said, “I feel so vulnerable, so alone, so lost.” I know she speaks for many. Regardless of our political affiliations, at the end of the day, we are all human beings longing for community, companionship, and belonging. But if you set your intention to be a good friend, a good listener, and an open neighbor, we will get through this. One day, we just might look back on this time, shake our heads, and say, “What was that?”
This week, my friend Tom told me that the brain is most open to change when it is stressed and when it is triggered. In the turmoil, he said, is where the opportunity is. I hope he’s right. Because if he is, there is a tremendous opportunity in front of us. There is an opportunity for all of us to lead with the values we hold dear and the truths we hold to be self-evident. There is an opportunity to stretch our brains and to stretch our hearts. There is an opportunity to look at the leaves on the ground not just as leaves, but to imagine them as friends who aren’t thriving and who may be dying a little bit every day. Therein is an opportunity.
We can pick up the leaf, pick up the phone, and recommit to honoring the journey ahead. Our country is getting older, as are our citizens, our roads, our highways, and our schools. So many of our rules and regulations and our institutions need a new dose of life injected into them. We have an opportunity to step in and help them thrive. We have an opportunity to thrive as a collective and as a country. This week, we have an opportunity to come together to check in on one another, to lay down our swords, and to recommit to one another. None of us should be dying in isolation or dying from loneliness, nor should we simply be existing but not thriving. It’s not who we are.
Fall is one of my favorite times of the year, as is spring since in the spring we are all reborn. But the truth is, every day presents itself as a day of rebirth, renewal, and an opportunity to recharge.
I know this coming week will be challenging for millions. Let’s each challenge ourselves to see Wednesday as an opportunity for renewal for our own hearts and minds and that of our country’s. May we each commit to come together to reach out to one another—to not gloat in our victory, but instead to seek ways to recommit to our shared future.
Me, I am actually feeling very calm about Tuesday. I’m looking forward to putting this behind us and moving forward. I’m looking forward to lowering the heat of the rhetoric. I’m looking forward to having conversations with people about things other than politics. I want to know what moves you, what you are looking forward to, what brings you delight, what tugs at your heart strings, what gets you up in the morning. I want to know about both your dreams and your fears.
How do we honor our shared future? How can I support what you want for yours, and how can you support what I want for mine? By looking for ways to nurture. By looking for ways to support each other, celebrate each other, and make sure our hearts are full and thriving.
Let’s honor our country. Let’s honor our shared path forward. Let’s follow our hearts. Trust me, it will never steer you wrong.
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, as we enter this week, may we recommit to our shared future. No matter who wins, may we stretch our hearts, open our arms, and commit ourselves to the journey ahead. Amen.
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