The other day I walked over to the hospital lounge next door where I regularly get lunch. Deep in my own thoughts about the busy morning and what I needed to get done over the noon hour, I approached the entrance and slid my umbrella in the door, which I had taken given a slight rain. As I did this, I removed the mask that I had on as I knew that the attendant on hand would provide a new paper mask, which I was required to wear in the hospital courtesy of COVID. As I attempted the juggle the umbrella, the old mask, and the new mask, I eventually managed to affix the new face covering as I made my way down the hallway, still deep in my thoughts. A little ways further, though, I noticed that a couple of people seemed to be looking at me a more intently than usual. Suddenly, to my horror, I realized that I was holding the umbrella over my head, despite the fact I was in the comfortable indoor confines of the hospital. I quickly lowered my umbrella, surveyed my surroundings, and assessed the damages. Although I hadn’t seen anyone that I knew, I immediately worried that those who had passed me had known who I was. And then I just started to laugh…
Later that evening, as I was telling the story to my wife and a couple of our kids, my son, Matthew, exclaimed, “Dad, you need a child psychologist!” We laughed again, and I let him know that I would working on that soon. But as I reflected further on the embarrassing escapade, it occurred to me that whether or not I could blame COVID for the gaff, the reality is that all of us right now have more than a few additional things on our mind as the winter approaches. Midst all the questions of what the pestilence profile will look like over the next few months, and just how this will influence our homes, work, schools, and the country as a whole, it is safe to say that as a population, we are as distracted and scattered as ever.
Which means, it has never been more critical for all of us to be patient with ourselves and others. By patient I am not suggesting lowering of standards, but rather a greater understanding that mistakes, misunderstandings, and gaffs are going to be more likely during this time. Research has long demonstrated that humans are not good multi-taskers, and the better we think we are at it, the worse we typically are. But combine a pandemic for the ages with heightened social unrest and one of the most divisive elections in some time, in addition to just our normal, stressful lives, and it is a recipe for finding ourselves anywhere but easily focused and engaged on what needs to be done.
And yet, because of this, maybe one of the most important things we can do is to shrink our heart, mind, and soul to what lies immediately in front of us, and find great peace in doing the simple things well. I am not suggesting we shouldn’t plan for the possibilities of the future. But what I am suggesting is that our best hope for a joyful, productive day is to put our efforts into doing what we can control, which is NOW. Practically speaking, there are few basic steps to this. First, when we wake up in the morning and are confronted with a busy, frenetic day, our first question should be to ask ourselves how we can channel this nervous energy into a calming activity, whether it be a journal entry or a walk outdoors. As our day begins, it is helpful to make sure that while we are paying attention to what is needed, we are also purposefully carving out time to finish tasks that are most critical, and help us feel productive, while not letting distractions dilute our efficiency and our mind. For example, I have learned that if I am going to write a clinical report, I need to refrain from answering emails for a certain period of time, or otherwise I am never going to get it done.
Beyond this, the next steps lie in giving ourselves time to think and reflect without an opportunity to be bombarded by constant needs. Although my previously mentioned walk to the hospital was marred by the “umbrella incident”, these walks—and others like them— have consistently given me time to think, process, and reflect in the silence of my own world. Just like my bike rides to and from work, they help refocus my attention to what has been done, what needs to occur, and simple what I need to release and let go. In essence, they are pockets of reflective silence built into a noisy day.
And finally, in coming back to my original point about patience, not only do we need to give ourselves a break for the goofy, erred things we might do, we need to learn to laugh with others and be comfortable with acknowledging when things go wrong. If we are losing our mind, then it is a whole lot better to lose our minds in the company of those we care and love then to do it in the dark, lonely, often critical recesses of our mind. In the end, laughing alone might be cathartic, but laughing with others, especially in our socially distant world, is so much better.
So, I hope I never find myself again with an umbrella above my head in comfortable, dry confines. But if I do, I might just chuckle with the passerby that my mind is clearly not in the right place. I hope he or she will understand, and get a good, redemptive laugh, too. Either way, I can’t let it get me down, and if anything, it serves as a reminder to just enjoy a good walk, wet, dry, or otherwise.