Image: Person with head on arms, worrying. (Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)
When I lived in Israel during the Second Intifada, Israelis had a word that contained all the horror and terror of that period: hamatzav. It means “the situation.” In typical Israeli fashion, it provided an innocuous shorthand for conversation: “No, you don’t want to go to the Damascus Gate – you know, hamatzav.” “Given hamatzav, I don’t recommend going to Machane Yehuda on Friday.” More often, it would be the only word spoken, combined with a shrug and a shake of the head: “Hamatzav.”
The word stood in for all the bad things that could happen if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time – or even a supposedly safe place, but an unlucky time. It stood in for exploded buses, and bodies reduced to scraps on the street. It stood in for death and horror and the worries of our families.
I find myself using it again, holed up here at Beit Adar, which I have only left once since March 11. “Given the situation” prefaces all sorts of conversations, as we try to figure out how to live our lives with as little exposure to other people as possible. As before, I don’t linger on the fears that come with “the situation” lest I become paralyzed.
I pray for the dear-as-a-son-to-me EMT, but I don’t let myself think too much about the details of his days. I pray for my niece the doctor in a big Southern medical center. I pray for the adopted cousin who checks receipts at the door of Costco. I pray for family members who work from home, and I pray that my infant grandson will make it through this with his family intact. I limit my consumption of the news. and I avoid the grisly details of COVID-19 because I don’t want the vortex of fear to suck me down.
Some days, the bad stuff gets to me anyway. Yesterday was like that. I could tell because I felt terminally cranky. I would love to punch the coronavirus in the nose, but it doesn’t work like that.
Today I found a gift, an article in the Washington Post: Anxiety is high because of coronavirus. Here’s how you can feel better. Some of their coronavirus coverage is not behind their usual paywall. In case you can’t get to the article, here’s a summary:
- Be intentional about social connections. We have to care for our physical health by isolating, but we also need to care for our emotional health, because it affects our immune functions. Be creative with whatever technology is available to you to stay connected to friends and family.
- Research shows that “counting our blessings” actually works. It is important to acknowledge anything good that comes our way. Writing down three things for which we are thankful every day is a valuable spiritual practice. (Rabbinical note: the Jewish practice of saying 100 blessings a day, or at any rate a LOT of blessings daily, fits right into this recommendation.) The point is, allow yourself to feel the gratitude, or if you can’t feel it, at least note that there are things or people in your life that make it better.
- Doing something nice for others will make us happier than doing something nice for ourselves. The idea is to move the focus outside ourselves. That can take lots of forms: reaching out to someone lonely, tipping extra for a delivery, writing a card or letter to send to someone. (Rabbinical note: Mitzvot!)
- A final bit of advice: “Give yourself and your family members more self-compassion and more of a benefit of the doubt than you usually would.”
This matzav, this situation, is truly awful: there’s no way to sugarcoat it. I found that those four suggestions gave me a road map that I needed to get back on track. I hope it is helpful to you, too.
What have you found that helps you cope right now?