Cactus Bloom
Fear is a powerful force. It can make us anxious, paralyze us, frustrate us, or harden us against our loved ones and neighbors. But on the other hand, it can shake us into action, teach us, motivate us, and give us occasion to pronounce our loyalties. The difference seems a matter of perception and reception of hardship, hinging on our decisions and attitude.
Today’s COVID-19 pandemic presents two grave concerns: first, of course, the disease itself; second, an unprecedented disruption of our society. Obviously there is no lack of information for navigating the former; but equally important is the need for dialogue and reflection on the latter. How will we receive and react to the jarring changes in our social, economic, and spiritual landscape? How will we conduct ourselves in a continued state of quarantine or lockdown? If we, as a nation–rather, an entire species–are to conquer this plague, we must stay mindful of the “interpersonal battlefield,” and focus our efforts there. As the cactus flower blooms in the harshest of conditions, we’ve been given a chance to shine in the face of adversity. Maintaining these three priorities may help us do just that:

1) Appreciate what you have, and proactively improve it

First and foremost, this is no time to be lazy. What projects have we put off? What otherwise horribly annoying tasks need attention? When so many scary or frustrating things are happening beyond our control, the very best answer is to dig our feet in the ground and ask: “What can I improve today?” It may sound silly, but it’s a powerful statement against uncertainty. Let’s not resign ourselves simply to acknowledge the things we can control. Taking positive, executive action towards those things gives us purpose, clarity, and is a natural motivator. Cleaning projects, home repairs or updates, and self-improvement are wonderful ways to spend our time and energy in these otherwise dull days. Artists, this is the time to sharpen your craft with practice and expanding your repertoire. Reading, exercise, and pursuing one’s crafts or talents make a clear statement of choice: “I will improve myself in these ways.” In doing this, our mind ceases to scramble for outside things that we may or may not need. Instead, we claim what is already ours, and commit ourselves to bettering it.

Need ideas? Not sure where to start, or what to do next? An effective model through these exercises is the “ripple effect,” or the expanding circle: start with a defined point–yourself: “What can I do to better myself?”; then your immediate circle: “What can I do to better my home?”; then your community; then the world at large.

2) Strengthen your relationships

Not “maintain,” not “keep up,” not “lean on,” but rather “strengthen.” Once again, a proactive effort here will go a long way. Start with your own house–your immediate family. Maximize time away from TV and internet; be creative! Finish a puzzle, play board games, draw together, exercise together, cook and eat together. Frustrations can flare when people are cooped up. Acknowledging this reality can help you control your emotional responses to minor (or major) annoyances. Be mindful and communicative of triggers–things that really bother you. This awareness defends your emotions from getting hijacked, and it gives your “lair-mates” the opportunity to avoid those triggers. Help them help you! You’ll also find that sharing these vulnerabilities of your personality can increase a healthy emotional intimacy and bond. This is especially critical for spouses.

Use technology as a tool–not a crutch. Today, there are wonderful tools to interact with our family and friends, who may be on the other side of the country–or the world! Commit to a routine of communication with your loved ones. Skype and FaceTime are great apps for intimate gatherings, and Zoom is terrific for gathering several people together in one shared video chat. You can even play games together online; check out Jackbox Games as an example. Many of these companies are offering discounts or free trials, in support of these difficult times.

Next, if your local conditions allow, this is an excellent time to be a good neighbor. Living in an apartment complex, or in close proximity to others? Consider leaving a box of canned goods and toiletries outside your door, for anyone to help themselves to. Offer your services to your friends (and enemies!) and neighbors, especially the elderly. Running for groceries, helping with urgent errands, or just talking on the phone are ways to tackle the isolation that many sick and elderly people may be feeling now. Don’t know them that well? Drop them a letter in their mailbox. If nothing else, receiving a handwritten letter is a way to brighten someone’s day.

When out in public, be patient with people; especially at the grocery store or at the doctor. Everyone is stressed, and frustrated. Meet harshness with kindness; annoyance with politeness. Be an example.

3) Cultivate your faith

In this context, “faith” refers to the belief and dedication toward a supernatural goal–the investment in something greater than ourselves, which cannot be readily observed. For some, that manifests in a faith in humanity. For others, a faith in karma or various degrees of spirituality. No matter your convictions, it is critical to look beyond the “here and now.” While the instinctive pursuits of food, shelter, financial stability, and health are necessary, they are also the chief causes of anxiety in these times. If not tempered with a continued devotion to the supernatural, these tangibles will inevitably harden our hearts, turn us inwards, and ironically cause more anxiety and even panic.

To this end, a religious conviction is unmatched for bringing peace, purpose, self-worth, and hope through troubled times. The belief in a higher power that not only exists, but has our best interests in mind is a continuous source of comfort for the devoted believer. Furthermore, the promise of a “next life” gives proper perspective to our temporal sufferings, fears, and efforts. Far from minimizing them, this belief contextualizes them to a higher purpose, and gives the hope of eternal happiness far beyond what we could ever accomplish in this life.

For those who are discouraged by the suspension of religious services and sacraments, this is a pivotal time to check our own personal, spiritual well-being, and improve and strengthen it where we can. Again using the model of the expanding circle, we must start with ourselves and our own homes. Spiritual reading, prayer, fasting, and devotions at home are beautiful ways to express our desire for faith. For Catholics, Masses are streamed constantly–not just on Sundays. In Pittsburgh, the Latin Mass of Most Precious Blood of Jesus Parish is streamed everyday on their Facebook page. Commit to clearing your Sunday schedule for Mass.  Get invested! Take a shower, put on nice clothes, and clear out a space in front of a screen where you can watch and participate in the Mass. Afterwards, say the Act of Spiritual Communion together. It’s worth it.

Now is the time for us to actively seek out our faith, rather than “check the boxes” and autopilot through our spirituality. If you’re not religious, seek out and share stories of kindness and extraordinary giving. Encourage others to join you in donating their time, talent, and treasure to benefit their neighbors. This positivity and hope is contagious (pun certainly intended), and keeps our communities focusing on ways to improve our way of life. With any luck, this clarity of vision during times of hardship will strengthen our nation and our world long after this pandemic is gone and forgotten.


At the end of the day, the world will survive this disease. Eventually, our social and economic stability will return. However, the question remains: will we have merely “survived” these days, or will we emerge stronger from them? Despite our limited control of the hardship itself, these days of quarantine and lockdown present us with the unique opportunity to better ourselves, our homes, our relationships, and our faith.

Let’s not waste that chance.

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