If your inbox and news feed is anything like mine, there is an overwhelming onslaught of information. Some of it is helpful, some of it is misleading, some of it is useless, and as of today, I find it all a little too much.
As the days stretch out in front of us, I guess I thought we might be settling into some sort of new normal. But instead, with no end in sight, a friend stated it quite well, “Anxiety is only building as people realize this is far more than a snow day.”
As we say in our line of work, that’ll preach.
Anxiety is not something that exists in a vacuum. As my colleague and mentor, Don Jones, reminded several of us in a recent training session, anxiety is fueled (or not) by social cues. We use others to calibrate our anxiety. We scan to see how others around us are processing data. Did others around us hear that noise? Did you see that? The feedback we receive helps us assess threats and then respond.
So, what happens when we social distance? Where should anxiety go? How do we calibrate it?
Austin is an extroverted and social environment. We are a city that thrives on live music, dancing, festivals, cafes and restaurants. We define and pride ourselves on being a creative environment.
Social distancing is hard for us. Not just psychologically and emotionally, but economically. My work is largely as a missionary-in-the-city, deeply embedded in the wedding scene, as owner and officiant at Central Ceremonies. The wedding community here is wildly creative, and we love our work, our employees, our couples, and our businesses. It is an industry that is deeply collegial, valuing collaboration over competition. And we understand ourselves as a micro-community of a broader Austin community that operates under the same values.
It has broken my heart to watch my colleagues and friends grapple with mass wedding cancellations, essentially wiping out profit margins, and threatening livelihoods. It has broken my heart to hear my colleagues struggle with keeping their beloved couples happy while simultaneously trying to keep their doors open. It has broken my heart to see us all try to figure this out over Facebook posts and direct messaging.
No amount of how-to lists or pep talks will dissolve this sadness or resolve this economic crisis. No, this is no snow day.
As a Seminary-trained theologian, I know the value of lament. Lament is an ancient ritual. It can be done individually, but more realistically, it is a communal expression of grief and sadness. Laments are often artistic: poems, songs,and even visual representations meant to offload our anxiety, uncertainty, and loss.
Laments are not meant to provide answers, nor be a pick-me-up. Instead, they operate out of an assumption that we cannot move forward until we acknowledge where we are now. We cannot dare to hope or dream and live again until we mourn. We cannot calibrate our anxiety until we acknowledge it in all its complexity. Community lament grounds us and binds us together even as we unravel.
Out of this deep belief, and for no other reason than as a response to the anxiety and heartbreak in our city, I am helping folks ritualize this time.
First, I encourage you to create a quiet space every day for some small ritual. In this way, you reflect on your own feelings daily. Such a ritual could be as simple as lighting the same candle for three to five minutes. It may be something more visual such as marking time and space around you with a journal entry of words or drawings. Or perhaps tying a ribbon to a nearby railing or fence, or finding a small object like a rock or stone and dropping into a bowl day after day as a way to collect your thoughts and emotions.
Now more than ever, ritual is necessary for our lives as we strive to stick together even in a time of social distancing. Let’s all support each other and continue being the creative and supportive community that we all know and love during this time of COVID-19.
The Rev. Sarah de la Fuente is an Austin-based ceremony officiant and owner of Central Ceremonies, and the Parish Associate at Central Presbyterian Church. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.