Amongst the offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was occasional space for reflection. That is, if you could hear above the noise, a cacophonous blend between the decibels of four growing daughters and the outrage of the surrounding world. Local, national, and global issues have threatened our resolve, forcing us to look inward and ask tough questions.
It’s hard not to get caught in perpetual inward reflection. Though some level of introspection is required for growth, getting stuck in a thought spiral without follow up can become even more detrimental. As we enter month four of our new normal, I find myself asking the same question my children are inquiring of me: What do we do next?
At the start, we had to acknowledge our feelings and offer space to grieve what we had lost, both as individuals and as a community. As the days pass by, I don’t want to insinuate that our time is up, but circling the internal drain of fear and pity is self-defeating. We are now faced with new challenges that we really don’t have any choice but to face head-on and do our very best.
I offered a personal example to my students at the conclusion of the spring semester, simultaneous just last month but seeming like one hundred years ago. I have seen how the cycle of maintaining inward focus can progress to despair. In my professional life, if I spend my days just thinking of my own life, I am engulfed by feelings of inadequacy. As I see my colleagues using their skills to change the world, I am home, busy changing diapers, practicing new speech sounds, and driving to basketball practice. If I track my focus downward, I see a stagnant resume, with little evidence of reaching any true career goals over the past decade in academia.
Since the first test turned positive, I knew I needed time and space for my journey in motherhood. Our family was stretched too thin when I tried to excel at both personal and professional pursuits. Even though I knew I was following my true calling with the work-life balance teetering towards motherhood and away from professional success, there were many moments I felt defeated.
However, when I change my gaze, and focus up and out instead of down and in, it’s only then that I realize I am using my gifts in service to the world around me. As many nurses can also claim, I have the ability to feel the needs of those around me. This lies somewhere equilateral between a liability and a gift, but along my life’s journey, it’s not a characteristic that I would eliminate, no matter the level of perceived self-defeat.
When I fix my gaze outward, I see a myriad of students that are enacting change in their corners of the world. They are fighting for justice, respecting dignity, and honoring the ethics they developed during their tenure in school. And though the degrees of separation may increase with each passing year, I’m encouraged daily that I had a small part of their foundation.
As my gaze reaches up, I am reassured that we are all designed with a purpose. And in this particular season, my calling lies in the four sets of eyes reflected back to me. I have been given the unique opportunity to influence, support, and encourage these four lives that were gifted to us. In spite of any personal frustration at not being able to balance the grandeur of a traditional academic career with motherhood, I stand strong in the faith that this is how it should be.
We can enact change, within our hearts and in the greater world. And though these small actions might not lead to a stacked resume, or an Instagram-worthy feed, the ripple effect of their positive contribution may prove to leave a much larger impact.
Looking back at the world at large, I have to believe that our compassionate response lies at the intersection of our outward actions and our upward calling. In the world as we know it today, what gifts can we give to the community around us?
There is no panacea, no cure-all, no patented action that applies to everyone. Even between my four daughters, I see that their responses are different, and each gift that they bring is unique. We can’t fit our compassion into a mold, with a one-size-fits-all approach to contributing to the world. There is no box to be forced into, no to-do list to check off.
To respond to our world, even in its most vulnerable state, we need to listen openly, react with grace, and watch it change our hearts towards compassionate peace.
Do the internal work, but don’t let it stop there. It must be renewed as time moves on and not become the stopping point. Our own unique response, our individual gift, is what the world needs.