A world under stress

Do you know a world in a pandemic can take the normal challenges and stress and conflicts and struggles and exacerbate them into the reality of what feels like impossibility?  We’re seeing it on center stage right now with Simone Biles.  And we all have opinions about it, don’t we?  Everything from she needs to put her big girl leotard on and muscle her way through it, to how much sense it makes given the abuse of the former training context and the team physician now in prison forever.  And a pandemic.

Our favorite swimmer is a color analyst and commentator at these games, Michael Phelps, and do you remember his bout with the police and some illicit drugs?  His admission he was having mental health issues?  And our response that the wealthy and the famous always turn to the excuse of drug dependency or alcoholism to try and get out of being accountable for bad decisions.  We can’t “see” mental and emotional health issues, so we sometimes decide they’re not really there or really real.  I give Michael Phelps credit for a foundation he now has that seeks to help kids learn not only the importance of physical activity for health but couples that equally with building mental and emotional strength to be a full and whole person.

It’s probably right to expect a pastor to have a soft spot for people experiencing pain, even when the reality seems that if you are reaping the rewards of being rich and famous you need to deal with the downside as well.  The weight of the world on your shoulders??? You’re simply a gymnast, not the prime minister of a developing country, not a nurse on the frontlines of a surging again pandemic, not a police officer on the capitol steps as rioters attack the heart of a republic, not a firefighter in the face of a drought-ridden forest even though climate change isn’t real.  It’s the Olympics that happen every four years with different athletes who rise and fall.  You’re a gymnast, a swimmer, a 3×3 basketballer, a ping-ponger – not a pastor responsible for the eternal life of the global population . . . get over yourself!  Maybe my tongue is a wee bit in the cheek there, but you get my drift.

Is it true for us?  The not famous working population trying to make our way through what used to be simply hard and now seems monumental because, well, pandemic?  We’re back to the mask conversation and I’ve noticed it hasn’t become nicer, more kind, or easier for us to converse together reasonably and respectfully.  I believe we all want great educational opportunities for our students, and yet what they witness is our ugliness and enmity toward each other in our credible disagreements around this 4×4 inch piece of cloth.  

Mental health challenges?  Shorter tempers?  Increased anger hinging toward rage?  What used to be hard now feeling nearly impossible?  Don’t underestimate the continuing underlying effects of a world under the stress of a not yet ending virus.  No it’s not an excuse for bad behavior, for shunning responsibility for questionable decisions, for not engaging in enough self-care to stay healthy.  It is, however, an element to consider when we wonder why our own responses, and maybe the responses of those around us, seem out of character.

“She’s not a hero, she’s a quitter.”  “Look how many people she’s helping by bringing mental health issues to light.”  “She’s simply giving everyone an excuse to be ruled by fear rather than faith.”  “She’s proving she’s human and not a caricature.”  I’ve heard and seen all these phrases the last day and half – how wonderfully opinionated we humans are and yes, I do resemble that remark.  What I’m also doing is looking in the mirror a bit and reflecting on moments when I moved forward when my own mental and physical health might have been better served had I stopped.  And moments when I moved forward and found myself grateful for the strength that led me to a gift and a blessing I otherwise would not have known.  Life is more complex and nuanced than easy answers and opinions from a literal massive distance might lead us to believe.

Our opinions are never going to stop, but maybe if we can be opinionated with a touch of kindness, a dash of generosity, a portion of humility in admitting we may not have the complete story as we offer our easy judgements. Maybe that leaves room in all things, most particularly during a not yet ended pandemic, for a minute, or maybe two, of grace.