Paul Andersen: The spiritual upside of a COVID Christmas
If COVID-19 can teach us anything, it is to value quality over quantity.
Since we cannot gather in large groups, smaller, more intimate gatherings must satisfy our communal needs on a more personal, more meaningful scale. Going small has benefits.
An exemplar for finding beauty during crisis, Anne Morrow Lindbergh graced the world 65 years ago with her literary and philosophical masterpiece, “Gift From the Sea.”
The wife of the controversial “Spirit of St. Louis” aviation pioneer, Charles Lindbergh, Mrs. Lindbergh’s unfathomable mourning for her child who was kidnapped and murdered became a global media sensation.
She further endured scandal as her celebrity husband was derided for apparent Nazi sympathies after cozying up to Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering. Charles Lindbergh foreshadowed Donald Trump as an advocate of the America First Committee, which downplayed the spread of fascism in pre-World War II Europe.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh found solace from her travails in a cottage on a small island where she ruminated on her life, identifying values both real and lasting. Her venture on the island was akin to Henry David Thoreau’s retreat to Walden.
Both Thoreau and Lindbergh chose to isolate in small spaces where they nonetheless engaged in expansive thoughts. They were not confined by closeness, but became more intensively self-focused because of it. They sought respite from the demands of culture and society, yet meditated on belonging to the human community.
“The multiplicity of the world,” she wrote, “crowds in on me with its false sense of values. Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed, not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts; in acquisitiveness, not beauty.”
This thoughtful, articulate writer put herself in an island quarantine as a forced opportunity to reflect, to simplify, to collect her thoughts. In her book, she offers the metaphor of collecting shells on the beach — first hungrily, then selectively — finally choosing the perfect shell, the one shell that meant the most.
Collecting shells meant collecting ideas, first widely and randomly, then selectively. Through it all, she laid out a list of coping mechanisms that are appropriate today under COVID.
“Simplicity of living, as much as possible, to retain a true awareness of life. Balance of physical intellectual and spiritual life. Work without pressure. Space for significance and beauty. Time for solitude and sharing. Closeness to nature to strengthen understanding and faith in the intermittency of life: life of the spirit, creative life, and the life of human relationships. A few shells.”
These insightful musings came from the heart of a woman who intently sought equilibrium in a seemingly random and chaotic world. Prompted by crisis and trauma, she withdrew externally and opened up internally.
Perhaps I should be ashamed to say that while COVID has been confining for most, it has been liberating for me, creating a forced opportunity to reassess, recalibrate and re-evaluate. Like Lindbergh on her island, I have collected a few shells, a few thoughts.
If we isolate during quarantine, we open ourselves to opportunities for solitude, reflection, contemplation, reading, writing, playing music, cooking, cleaning, communing and ordering our lives, inside and out.
If we feel vulnerable, we appreciate mortality as a human condition that links us to each other with sympathy, compassion and caring, which are the bases for ethics and morality.
If we feel loss, we appreciate that which we have lost and the human need to rebuild, restore, rejuvenate and recover together.
If we feel fear, we open internal channels to security by cultivating emotional strengths and psychological well-being.
If we feel uncertain, we appreciate support from family, friends, neighbors and communities where love is an inexorable bond.
If our incomes are reduced, we appreciate necessities, not the wants pushed at us by mass consumerism.
If our traveling is curtailed, we appreciate our homes and nearby places, the smaller circles that give us serenity and comfort.
If we face death, we appreciate life all the more, the life of a positive, active mind, the life of a healthy body as measured by our own vibrancy, the life of an exuberant and ebullient spirit.
A COVID Christmas might be the most meaningful and fulfilling yet.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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