How to Cope?

Standing at the precipice of a pandemic. What does a pandemic look and feel like? The Metropolitan Museum of Art is shutting down, Broadway going dark. All Catholic elementary schools closed in NYC today, each day a Jewish day school closes in NY and all schools – private/public/charter–closed in Ohio today. Isolated and fearful seniors stay behind closed doors. Quarantined families with young children stuck at home for days together. Students with learning challenges struggling with online learning—they weren’t prepared for this. No one is. But it is here. NBA season cancelled, flights cancelled, hand sanitizer sold at a premium. Anxious, scared, full of faith, optimistic, craving connection and community, distracted by the never-ending tweets and updates—we feel all of it. How to cope?

Setting up a workspace to work remotely for these weeks in my apartment on the Upper West Side of NYC, in a 25-year-old recliner that I begged my husband to get rid of and where I am now spending untold hours, I look out at a sticker on the upper moulding of a closet door. The phrase from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is a beacon of light and echoes what I believe in my soul—“Yesh inyan shnityapech hakol l’tovah”—”There is a concept that it all will be turned around into good.”

I am not an alarmist and am not one who has a stash of canned goods waiting for the apocalypse. I am the daughter and daughter-in-law of Europeans and Israelis who have been through trying times. My epigenetic makeup is rigged for challenge. Still, this is challenging on many levels, and it is a struggle to be present in the moment and to guard against spinning in the whirlwind of the abyss.

Self-care is critical, a few thoughts:

  • LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA: Perhaps you don’t need to know how many cases of Corona are in Italy, Israel or NYC while you’re going through this yourself. Don’t post on social media. Take care of your privacy and mental health. Everyone out there including your immediate and extended family, friends you haven’t been confided in during the past ten years, co-workers, people you sit on boards with, neighbors, Facebook/Instagram/Twitterverse (you get the picture) needs to give you a bit of space. Our culture has become a Facebook story; not surprisingly, we feel entitled to know what is going on of moment in someone else’s life. Privacy feels a bit selfish. It isn’t. It’s a gateway to wholeheartedness and inner strength.
  • YOU ARE ENTITLED NOT TO REPORT ON YOUR STATUS: Some of us or our families or loved ones will get sick. That is the reality. Remember: This is your mental and physical health and a stressful time, you don’t owe a “play by play” to your social network, community, and even close friends. And for the people you choose to trust, some will say the right thing, and some will ask “how are you feeling?” “how’s your daughter/husband/best friend?” when they really want to know: “did you get your results back? Are they positive? Because if you’re positive, then there’s a higher chance that I’m positive!” and “there’s a higher likelihood that we will need to shut down A, B or C!!!!”
  • WHAT HELPS: Prayer/Meditation/Keeping A Routine/Family Support: Many synagogues and prayer services are cancelled, with more to come. Tomorrow many of will pray the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service at home. Let’s pray out loud. When we get to “Lechah Dodi”—welcoming the Shabbat as a bride, let’s feel the shift and appreciate our blessings, our connection and link to the eternal. Let our voice in prayer overcome it all. Wherever we are in our lives, we can bring sanctity into our lives.

This week some of us celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim–where Haman’s plan to kill the Jews ultimately ended with Esther turning the tables, and through her advocacy winning a reversal of fortunes and salvation for the Jews of Persia– the concept of “v’nahapoch hu”, of history being turned upside down, is a seminal theme. May all those who are sick, both physically and emotionally, heal quickly and may this global challenge be turned quickly for the good, ken yehi ratzon.

About the Author
Chavie N. Kahn is a leader, strategist, fundraiser, educator. Building relationships, developing the strategy, cultivating & securing the resources to make dreams happen-- that is her passion. She is an experienced non-profit development professional, managing campaigns and successfully generating major endowment gifts for metropolitan New York schools in excess of $84M. She is a former litigator at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and in house litigator at Prudential Securities. She currently is focusing on improving Jewish day school education and on leadership.
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