When will this be over?
In 1984 I volunteered to start a mission in Zimbabwe in Sub-Saharan Africa. I went as part of a team to accompany the people who lived there to meet their needs as best we could.
My first few years were grim. Deep poverty and starvation surrounded me, along with crop failures because of drought. Diseases were rampant, especially malaria, which I got three times while I lived there. For the first year, I could hardly speak to anyone because I didn't know the language. Friends, family, and colleagues were at home in Toledo, and I felt alone and separated from everything familiar.
Over time, I learned the language, made new friends, and adjusted to the new reality of heat, drought, and poverty. The landscape and the problems didn't change, but I changed, like a flower emerging in the desert. I realized the generosity, kindness, and resilient spirit of people who, at first, I only saw as victims.
These memories of those years in Zimbabwe come back to me as I face the new reality of a world-wide pandemic and the prevalence of racism among us. And I wonder, "When will this be over?"
Some things I learned in Zimbabwe that helped me then are helpful to me now.
I had to learn to speak a foreign language that required discipline and practice. I had to accept that I could only talk like a child even though I was 32 years old.
I learned to look at the situation: poverty, starvation, disease, and drought, and not sugar-coat the suffering.
I had to learn to look more deeply at those I lived with not as victims but as people with hopes, dreams, joys, and families they loved.
I had to learn to let go of my projections and judgments.
Over time, I became fluent in the language, made friends, and learned to live in this new place. An older African couple even adopted me as their son, and they became like my second parents. I learned to love the fact that nothing happened quickly, and the simplest things took weeks, months, and even years to accomplish. There was no hurry, no rushing. I learned to settle into the moment as it was. I felt like a flower blossoming in the desert.
These days I keep hoping for a vaccine, a treatment to cure those infected, and an awakening among us. We are all brothers and sisters, each of us with hopes, dreams, joys, and families we love and the desire for a full and prosperous life.
There seems to be so much hatred and anger floating around these days, blame, judgment, accusations. I see it. I know it is there. I feel terrified of this disease. I feel anger at the injustice of racism.
How do I cope with this moment?
There is a practice called R.A.I.N. (Tara Brach, Radical Compassion). It helps me to step away from my perceptions, projections, and prejudices about the way I think things are or should be and to see life as it is. Here's what RAIN means.
R—Recognize what is happening inside me right now? What are my reactions? My feelings? My sensations? Is my mind filled with churning thoughts? Just look.
A—Allow this moment to be just as it is without feeling the need to change it. Try to find the will within to pause and accept what is happening. Notice what is happening within - - - not judging, pushing away, controlling, or blaming. Do nothing.
I—Investigate with gentle, curious attention. This is not exploring "why" you are feeling this way or the "cause" of these reactions. You are becoming curious about what the feelings are and how you are experiencing them. Name them.
N—Nurture-extending a moment of loving-kindness and compassion to all those suffering from this disease and from the experience of racism. Offer yourself a moment of loving-kindness and self-compassion. Extend healing.
These are moments of significant life challenges. I am taking the time to step back and lean into this moment, just like I did in Zimbabwe 36 years ago.
I wonder what will happen next.