I thought I might take a minute this week to try to express some of my feelings. It’s a selfish move on my part. When my thoughts are just swirling around in my own head bumping into each other, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by them. When I can talk them out or in this case, get them on paper, sort of shine a light on them, they don’t have the same power over me.
My current situation is one of privilege. We are not sick. Although our businesses have both slowed to a crawl, we do not worry about our next meal or paying a mortgage. Our families, and even our large extended families, are all Covid-19 free. We do have elderly parents, but neither of them is in a care facility, and both are in good health. Jim and I get outside for a nice walk in the country each day. We connect with our children via FaceTime, Zoom and online games and have lots and lots of jobs and interests and hobbies to keep the days full.
Yet, we’ve had tears.
It was Jim’s birthday on Tuesday. It was one of those milestone ones. We knew we would be spending the day together, just the two of us. We’ve not spent in-person time with anyone else for several weeks now, so the idea of spending this day together-alone wasn’t a surprise. I had even talked myself into the idea that it would take us back to where we started, over forty years ago. At that time, we wanted nothing more than just to be together. And here we were again, just the two of us.
Jim’s gift from me this year was an experience. I can’t give away the secret here because although Jim now knows about it, one of the people he will share it with won’t find out for another couple of weeks. At any rate, I created a puzzle for Jim to solve as a way to reveal his gift. My plan was to have him work on it over breakfast and into the morning, which he did. Then Jim checked his phone and was welcomed to his birthday with many wonderful Happy Birthday messages. Kaitlyn had sent a little video of Ben singing Happy Birthday Mampa. That brought on the first set of tears. It was the first of many seeming contradictions in our feelings that day.
On the one hand, we have so many blessings to count. The very fact that Jim has reached this age is no small miracle. Given his family history of heart disease, and his own personal history with heart disease, with myocarditis and his heart attack, there have been many reasons to think he would not see this milestone. And yet he has, and is healthy, happy, active and loving life. So, this hand is full. Full of gratitude, full of good health, full of blessings. Neither of us take the fullness of this hand for granted. Both of us handle it with care.
In our other hand though, it feels like we are carrying grief. When I carried Jim’s birthday cake to him, singing solo, I didn’t make it past the first line before bursting into tears. Usually we have our whole family with us; our children, our children-in-law, our grandson, our nephew and his girlfriend and my brother and his girlfriend. We usually make such a wonderful choir of voices. I could hardly stand not having our family, the one we are so grateful for, with us. This hand of grief also felt full. And also needed to be held with care.
My hand of gratitude did not cancel out my hand full of grief. I’ve had to keep reminding myself it is possible to carry two very different things at the same time.
I am seeing and feeling a lot of this ‘two-full-hands’ syndrome around me. I see each of us doing what we can to help curb the virus, by staying home, hand washing and taking social-distancing seriously. In this hand we hold a feeling of control. In our other hand we hold such a lack of control; we have no template for this world we find ourselves in. We are moving forward using Braille.
In one hand we hold hope. We see numbers beginning to weaken in certain regions of the world. At the same time, our other hand is filled with despair. We despair at the thousands and thousands of lives, young and old, being lost.
In one hand we hold normalcy and calm. Meals get made, chores get done, work continues albeit in a different setting. In the other hand we hold a complete lack of normalcy. Nothing feels quite right. We have simple thoughts of running to the store for something and then remind ourselves to stay put. Regular activities and appointments are cancelled. The axis of the earth seems off.
Our front-line workers are having these ‘two-hands-full’ moments too. On one hand they are doing exactly what they have been trained to do; to care for those of us who are too sick to care for ourselves. In this hand they carry all their skills, their training, their expertise and their compassion. But in their other hand they must be carrying exhaustion and fear. They too have families who they leave each day when they go to work. Their families are missing their voices around their kitchen tables; voices that are an important part of their family’s choir.
What I know for sure is it is normal to carry two very different feelings at once. In fact, we are good at it. It is healthy for us to acknowledge it. It is not a contest between our hands. Both things can, and should be carried at the same time.
Jim’s birthday was a perfect reminder of this. We felt so grateful to know we have such a loving family, and so heartbroken not to be able to be together with them. We have two full hands.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What’s in your other hand?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to hold two full hands.