4/27/20 – Dear Gafcon family,
Once again, I am hoping this message finds you and your families healthy, safe, and strong. I have to start by expressing an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what we are witnessing around us. The heroism and selflessness of individuals within our healthcare system and the essential workers who ensure people’s basic needs are met is truly humbling and inspirational. There are also many others who, out of the spotlight, are stepping up to extend a hand as they are buying groceries for at-risk neighbors, making calls to isolated individuals, and donating to ensure a family can buy food for the week. All of these acts, whether overt or quiet, are adding up to impact millions of lives.
It almost feels like I’m watching an episode of the TV show The Twilight Zone, a psychological thriller I used to watch in the 70’s which included fantasy, science fiction, suspense, horror, and concluded with a macabre or unexpected twist, but always with a moral. I hope that the acts of community service and kindness will be the moral we all take out of this experience as we rebuild and recalibrate our lives to be ready for whatever is ahead.
I have been spending time up at our cabin in Southern Oregon and despite the state of the world today, the natural beauty is undeniable and uplifting. The fact that the seasons continue uninterrupted without a care helps me to place our current uncertainties into perspective. Around the world we celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd and it made me reflect on how this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in is a wake-up call for the responsibility we shoulder for what is happening. Baruch Spinoza (1632 –1677) was a famous Dutch philosopher of Jewish origin. He was one of the early thinkers of the Enlightenment movement which spoke to the dangers of blind religious faith and the conceptions of the self as it related to the universe. He famously said: “Nothing in nature is by chance…Something appears to be chance only because of our lack of knowledge.” How prescient…we are certainly witnessing anxiety and uncertainty caused by a lack of knowledge!
When we come out of this pandemic, we hopefully will have learned some very important lessons: that the food on our tables shouldn’t be taken for granted; of the crucial importance of Nature to our wellbeing and to our very existence; that the headstrong hyper-individualism that has so defined our American culture can be very destructive; that hyper-capitalism is unsustainable and ultimately self-defeating; of the need and importance of localization for basic security as well as the health and wellbeing of our communities; and simply the need for a kinder way of being.
After the suffering and the selflessness we are witnessing, we cannot allow ourselves to go back to the way we were. My hope is that this is an inflection point in history, one that is infused with a sense and acceptance of the need for international collaboration, dependence, and fellowship through which great obstacles can and will be overcome. It is time to understand what is going on around us to level the playing field of inequities and to think about how we can properly deploy taxes, policies, and regulations in a way that catalyzes, supports, and nurtures our communities.
But with that said, our losses and grief are real and not to be ignored. Some have lost family and friends, millions have lost jobs, and most tragically some have lost hope. Nearly all of us have temporarily lost the ability to be with and hug loved ones, we have lost our cherished mobility, and our ability to do many things we enjoy most. But in this process of collective suffering, the entire world has changed and in some ways for the better. Los Angeles has better air quality than ever remembered, for the first time in a generation people in Venice, Italy are seeing fish in the waterways, and in India mountains are appearing that haven’t been seen for over 25 years.
A short while ago we were all living a normal existence full of plans, to-do lists, and goals, whether spoken or tacit. Now we’re feeling our way through each day, riding up and down on the flow of new information about death rates, extensions of school closures, layoffs, furloughs, and salary freezes or cuts. We’ve had to take on new roles that we may not have readily chosen, including homeschool teacher and 24/7 companion to children; caregiver to vulnerable or ill relatives; and being an emotional rock for anxious spouses, significant others, relatives, colleagues, and direct reports. All of this made me reflect on what I know about how humans construct meaning and purpose during times of change and adversity.
During the Vietnam War, Medal of Honor recipient Vice Admiral James Stockdale (1923 – 2005) spent seven years being tortured in a Hanoi prison. When asked about his experience, he noted that optimistic prison-mates eventually broke, as they passed one imagined deadline for release after another. Stockdale’s strategy, on the other hand, was to meld hope with realism—“the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail,” as he put it, with “the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are.” We all can learn that lesson by acknowledging that we are not engaged in a brief skirmish but rather a protracted siege. The enemy isn’t going anywhere. To forget that would be to invite further and extended horror.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian Neurologist and Physiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, who survived Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, and Kaufering death camps. He wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” In every situation in life, we can choose how to respond to our circumstances and through that choice, moment by moment, we grow and transform ourselves.
When life is uncertain and old rhythms and routines have become memories we mourn, it can be easy to slip into a sense of “why bother?” We need a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and we need that motivation to stay front of mind. In other words, we need purpose. John F. Kennedy (1917- 1963) famously said, “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” A sense of purpose pushes us out of complacency and into proactivity, resulting in healthier decisions and richer experiences despite our feelings of isolation, anxiety, and sadness.
While most of our Gafcon team will be continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, we are all on phones, e-mail, and attending virtual meetings all day long. Although not the norm I was accustomed to, I feel blessed and fortunate to be in the position we are in.
Until next time, take care of yourselves and take care of each other. Stay healthy, safe, sane, and strong.