We have been given the gift of time. Let’s reflect on what’s important and what’s not.
As I sit in my home office, listening to the sound of my husband’s ZOOM phone calls blasting on speakerphone, I try to write another ten pages of a new project I started last week. Except, I keep thinking about how much I don’t want to write this particular project. Is it because it’s hard to concentrate in my suddenly loud house? Or is it because I know I have less than three months before two wailing newborns take up all of my time and energy? Or is it because it feels like the end of the world, and I’m feeling compelled to prioritize what truly matters over what doesn’t?
While we all shelter-in-place, some might find they’re more distracted than ever — by the non-stop news, by their attention-seeking children, by their anxiety and fear — and others might feel they suddenly have time to think about the meaning of life.
Personally, I can’t help but to reflect on my own values and philosophy right now. I’m reminded of my years as a high school English teacher, specifically when I taught an existentialism unit to my seniors. Literature prepares us for times like this by putting the reader into fictional circumstances and forcing us to ask, “What would I do?”
My seniors and I read literature that often asked the questions, “What is the meaning of life?” “How do we continue on during times of war and devastation?” Reading Hamlet, Siddhartha, Night, Oedipus, Antigone, and “The Myth of Sisyphus” allowed us to consider what we found truly important.
Although burdened with the monotony and pain of life, Sisyphus still remained joyful as he hoisted the boulder up the hill daily. Eliezer from Night survived the Holocaust and still found meaning in life. He had a joyful existence despite suffering through torturous conditions. Hamlet constantly questioned if life was worth living, and in the end, chose not to avenge his father’s death until he was certain murder was moral and meaningful. Oedipus wrestled with the question of fate and freewill, learning that life is determined by fate. Antigone died because she believed morals and family are more important than laws and government. Siddhartha found the true path to wisdom is experience, and life’s greatest meaning is to love. And King Arthur’s men loyally lived and fought for their beliefs: to serve their king and religion.
So what will we learn?
Now is not the time to be glued to our phones scrolling through mind-numbing news and memes; it’s time to consider our values and our beliefs.
What is important? What truly matters?
Thrown into a sudden recession, we’re all filled with uncertainty. Attacked by an invisible enemy, we’re all filled with fear. And sheltering-in-place means we aren’t able to turn to creature comforts, shopping the latest sales at Target to silence our anxious voices within.
We’re forced to be alone with our thoughts. We’re forced to reexamine our lives.
So what is worth our time? And what isn’t? Because that’s all we’re given at this moment: the gift of time. How do we spend it wisely?
I’ve learned to take a step back and scrutinize my life goals, since no matter how hard I work, how focused I am, how long I visualize success, I might not ever achieve those goals. A recession is good at helping you realize you don’t have as much control over your life as you’d previously thought.
But maybe I’ve been defining success all wrong. Maybe success isn’t defined by my job title, the amount of money in my bank account, or credits on my IMDB page.
Maybe success is learning that I already have everything I need. Maybe success is developing the ability to stand tall and firm during a tempest. Learning when to hold on, and when to let go. Maybe success is finding moments of joy hidden within hours sorrow. Maybe success is loving and accepting yourself for exactly who you are, and not what you’ve accomplished and accumulated.
And maybe success is being able to look at your own character and be proud of how you react to uncertain times and desperate situations. How you treated other people — if you became a helper or a hoarder. After all, as readers and writers we’ve learned that character equals choice under pressure. Who we are is how we react during times of stress, joy, and devastation.
That’s what matters to me: who I am, rather than what I have. Job descriptions, trophies, awards, and material possessions don’t matter to me. Family, friends, and faith do.
Once we’re out of the woods, after the pandemic is under control and the service industry reopens its doors, things might not look the same. So I turn to minimalism, Taoism, and my Christian faith to calm me.
Minimalism tells me I don’t need many material possessions to be happy, and I don’t need to fill every moment with distractions to feel secure. All I have is all I need.
Taoism reminds me that “A way of life that keeps saying, ‘Around the next corner, above the next step,’ works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good that only a few get to where they would naturally have been in the first place — Happy and Good — …” (The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff). I don’t have to constantly climb some arbitrary mountain of goals and accomplishments to reach the peak where Happiness, Fulfillment, Satisfaction are rumored to wait for me. I can choose to be fulfilled despite never taking a single step.
And my Christian faith says God is not canceled. God will never leave or forsake me. No matter what, He holds me in the palm of His hand. Despite tumultuous storms of self-doubt, God will take care of me. He finds me worthy of His love even if I own nothing or have failed to accomplish any of my goals.
If, during this unprecedented time, I cannot do, then I can only just be. And my being can either make the world better or worse. It’s my choice. I will choose to make the world better. I will choose to be grateful and hopeful despite uncertainty. I will choose what matters and disregard what doesn’t.
And I will keep my chin up, always looking forward, as I rejoice by living in the moment.