God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Another Sunday. The end of five weeks of confinement. For me–seven weeks, almost 1/6th of the year. The weeks fly by, there is a sameness about everything which, in many ways, is comforting. Yet, early March, when I first had my cold (definitely not the virus) seems like an eternity ago. President Macron came on national TV last Monday to tell us that the confinement would last through May 11. Then he outlined a plan that would start on May 12, assuming the curve had flattened and France’s deaths were declining. It would begin with primary school students going back to school, a few stores opening up and some services that had been shut down re-opening slowly. There was an implication that the eldest, the frailist and the most vulnerable would be asked to stay indoors. That was confirmed on Wednesday when the government’s chief scientific adviser, Jean-François Delfraissy, said that people over 65 years of age would stay confined the longest. On Friday, he reversed what he said and promised that all ages would have restricitons lifted at the same time.
It is one thing to be in lockdown and know that all my friends and neighbors were in the same boat as me. Friday morning, before the reversal, I thought of people going out and walking along the Seine, crossing the Pont Neuf and Pont Alexander III, going to the American Library, and I had to stay at home. Some friends said ‘it’s unconstitutional. They can’t age discriminate.’ I didn’t feel picked on at all. All along I have felt as safe as one can feel during a crisis like this. I have felt that France is looking after me. So if the wisdom said “You are over 65. We think it’s a good idea that you use extreme caution and stay inside,” ok, I would follow it. But I knew it would be harder. I would feel more alone, that I’m saying I’m vulnerable.
I thought of the Serenity Prayer which I say a lot. Sometimes I say it without really thinking about what it actually says. But Friday, I said it to myself many times as a way to pray for acceptance. What are the things I cannot change? This virus, how others respond to the restrictions, when it will all end if it does ever actually completely end, my age among other things.
What can I change? and do I have the courage to act on my own behalf? I can always change my attitude if I get lonely or too tired or grumpy, I can do as much exercise indoors and use my hour outside to walk – they say the stronger a person is the better they can fight off the virus, I can keep working and writing which feels very good – and when I feel good, I feel more positive and stronger, I can keep connected with as many people as I can so that the world feels very small right now. Stephen Colbert, in talking about the virus and the One World Concert that was held last night, showed us a T-shirt he was selling to raise money for healthcare workers and food for people who are going hungry. The front of the T-shirt said “United we stand, Divided.
we fall” He was urging social distancing for as long as we can and how these things are actually bringing us together.
Maybe… It seems there are two camps. There is the one camp that has turned some yucky lemons into wonderful lemonade–feeling closer to their friends and neighbors, not being self-destructive with food (Colbert said “order two of these T-shirts. One in the size you wear and one in the size you’ll be after we get out of lockdown and you’ve eaten everything available.”), allowing the slow-down of time to give birth to creativity, to meditate more, to rest more, to read more and learn more. Then there is the other camp. The ones who are scared and anxious, who listen to news that riles them up, makes them angry and provoked, who assume everyone is having as hard a time as they are, are basically miserable.
The wisdom to know the difference. When I was a young woman, I kept repeating some stupid behaviors over and over again. I ran into brick walls, bloodied my nose then did it all over again. I had some older women friends and I would go crying to them each time I hurt myself. Finally one of them, in total frustration, said to me “Sara, has it ever occurred to you, when you are headed for that wall, to turn left?” Intellectually, I knew what she meant. I got the metaphor. But I didn’t have the wisdom, or self-knowledge to know when to turn. I guess wisdom comes from making mistakes, sometimes years of mistakes. This extraordinary time has allowed me to show myself the wisdom that I have picked up over six decades of life. I will say “Amazingly, I’m finding that lockdown isn’t difficult.” Perhaps it isn’t all that amazing. Perhaps it’s years of saying the Serenity Prayer and, to the very best of my ability, putting it into action. Meditators will call what they do “a practice”. They keep practicing every day. I tell people a lot younger than me who are trying to change some behaviors to “consider it a muscle you haven’t used in a long time or maybe ever. Strengthen that muscle a little at a time every day, keep practicing” Then comes a time in one’s lifetime when all the practice pays off. For my parents, it was the Depression and WWII. For us, it’s the Covid-19 virus of 2020. Extraordinary times brings out the best in many of us and the worst in many of us. Thanks to the Serenity Prayer and a lot of love, I’m being a person I quite like these days. So, I’m not wild about May 11 being the possible end of lockdown but it is what it is. I’m prepared.
May 12, also happens to be the launch date of my book Saving Sara A memoir of food addiction. I have a radio interview that day and will celebrate with as many people as I can.