Front Lines

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I was talking to a friend of mine who works as an emergency room doctor here in Portland, Oregon, and I thanked him for his dedication and hard work during this pandemic. I asked him what it’s like being on the front lines. And what he responded surprised me.

“Eve, I don’t see myself as being on the front lines any more than you or anyone else. You see, I have a job. I go to my job each day, and I try my best. I get my paycheck each month. Many people these days are not able to go to their jobs, are not getting their paychecks, and are really suffering. I’m just doing what I’ve trained to do and what I’ve always wanted to do.”

He told me that he recently went to a car wash in our neighborhood, and there was a big sign there saying that essential workers get their cars washed for free. After thinking about it for a few seconds, he went ahead and paid the fee and had his car washed, feeling grateful that he had his job and could afford to pay for his car wash.  

Not all heroes wear capes or medical garb. Many are completely unseen, and their praises go unsung. 

My conversation with this friend made me think about front lines.

There are many front lines these days. And many heroes.

Not all heroes wear capes or medical garb. Many are completely unseen, and their praises go unsung. 

What about the mothers and fathers who are at home with all their children, some of whom they struggle with in the best of times? 

Being a parent has never been more complicated. With all the added screen time our children are exposed to, and all the negative influences constantly streaming right into the palms of their hands, our children are feeling bombarded and overwhelmed.

In addition, kids thrive with structure, and structure has mostly been thrown out the window. It feels like there is no “normal” in parenting our children anymore.  

I can only imagine that mental health issues must be at an all-time high during this time, with anxiety and depression manifesting itself in so many ways—for teenagers and adults alike. When I see my own kids struggle, I think of what it would have been like for me (a complete extrovert!) to be a teenager living through this time, stripped of all socialization, end-of-year parties, and graduations. For me, people are like oxygen. Take away my social life, and it would have been disastrous!

So maybe our kids are on the front lines?

Teenagers, for sure!

Maybe they are our true heroes of the hour? They are struggling, and rightfully so. They are trying their best under these circumstances. They are showing up where they can. We need to give them (and ourselves) a little slack and a little credit. 

I also think of all the single mothers and fathers out there who are doing this work all on their own—holding things together, even if, sometimes, only by a thread. Bringing joy to their homes, even when worry and dread is what they hold in their hearts. They are all heroes. Those front lines are not easy places to be. At times, they can feel more like war zones. 

How about all those men and women who are living with the added stress of having their income take a massive hit due to this situation? Some have lost jobs, and many feel unfulfilled and worried, having no choice but to deplete their savings with each month that passes. Financial stress can also often lead to a disruption in the harmony of one’s home. The instability of the situation, and not knowing how and when it all will end, brings us no peace.

And yet, even though some of us have so little at this time, there is still so much giving and kindness being done, like the sharing of basic supplies (like toilet paper) and food, people shopping for those more vulnerable, or deliveries of homemade challahs each Friday to friends and neighbors in lieu of a hug. There are so many community initiatives collecting and generously dispersing funds to those in need, even though many have little to spare. You see people shining in these moments. So many are leaning on their values at this time. Chesed/kindness makes the world go round.

And how about our community leaders who are taking care of the welfare of their people, guiding many through an unprecedented time of isolation and loneliness, grief and loss? One elderly community member whom I visited told me that I was the first person (flesh and blood) that she had seen in weeks. She had been too afraid to even venture out to the grocery store, and had been all alone, living solely off of canned food. I cried. She cried. I couldn’t even give her a hug.  

The instability of the situation, and not knowing how and when it all will end, brings us no peace.

Sometimes, after getting off the phone with an elderly community member, many of whom are isolated in old age homes, I shake my head and wonder if the emotional long-term effects of this pandemic will actually be worse than the virus itself.

For those who have illnesses, such as pre-dementia, and who are now deteriorating alone, with confusion and fear as the only constant, it is not a simple mater. I have sadly noticed how the spark in some of their voices keeps diminishing each week. Keeping them feeling hopeful, and keeping one’s congregation feeling connected and upbeat, is exhausting! Trying to reach your people from across the Zoom screen is not as easy as face-to-face.  

These are also front lines. Front lines, indeed. 

Spiritual front lines.

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As an observant Jewish woman, I’ve found myself standing on some other interesting spiritual front lines during this time, as well.

Using the mikvah each month has always been a big part of my practice as a married woman. My favorite monthly ritual, which once gave me so much peace, calm, and tranquility, has now brought along with it some serious trepidation. Is it safe? Am I putting myself in danger of contracting the virus by immersing? This is my new front line.

See yourself as you are: brave and strong. Not wavering on the personal front lines of your life.

And when I cautiously—taking all the precautions and recommendations (both by doctors and rabbis) into account—and safely immerse in the mikvah, this is my new front line. I feel somewhat connected to the heroic women who lived with tremendous sacrifice in past generations, picking through ice to immerse. It is definitely a different experience than usual, but one which I will never forget.

Overcoming fears. Keeping perspective. Finding ways of adhering to my values. Even in crazy, difficult times.  

Another front line that I was afraid I’d have to cross sooner or later was being called upon as a volunteer for the chevrah kadisha, the Jewish burial society. From the onset of the pandemic, I anxiously awaited that first phone call asking me to assist with this holy work. I thought that when the call came, I would have to decline. I was too afraid. I didn’t know if it was safe, or even the right thing to do. But when the call finally came, my answer was quick. It was crystal clear to me that, once again, I was standing on the front lines. It’s not always easy to stand there, but you do what you need to at every moment.

One day at a time, one situation at a time. One front line at a time. All a gift from Above. Each front line an opportunity for growth.  

See yourself as you are: brave and strong. Not wavering on the personal front lines of your life.

The details are different for everyone, but we are all made from strong stuff. Step up. Lean in. Don’t be afraid.

Your front line beckons…

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