A CIL Reflection on Covid-19: Written by Deborah Allen

April 2020 COVID-19

Dear grown kids I chose and grandkids that I consider mine, It’s 5:15 am and I am already up with my coffee. Not because I am farming or commuting, but because my nervous system is on high alert. Some ancient part of me is frightened. 

As you know, I have spent my whole adult life working with people – as an actor and a director and then as a counselor and an educator. I call groups like some people plant gardens. I have not been totally great at things in the physical world. Cooking is still a challenge. Sewing is a nightmare. I have been a slap-dash housecleaner and an accidental food waster. No need to be reassuring, though I appreciate it. I am ok with these limitations.  

But here is where I know things. I know some things about groups. I have a good handle on how emotions work. I know a boat load about anxiety, trauma, PTSD, and how to live in the spaces between things – where it is uncertain and confusing and rigorous. I have had nightmares most of my life, often waking up in the middle of the night flooded with adrenalin. I’ve handled the unbearable with grace and with stupid; with kindness to self and cruelty. I have a messy, alive, difficult often magical and once-in-a-lifetime relationship with your father. This work in progress likes getting older, loves you being my family that I got to choose, and…I can’t sleep. 

I am up at crack of dawn because my Big Old Vegas Nerve is firing like an air gun. The need to write to you pushed on me until I got up and started. 

There is a small group of women I met with for many years. After being together through our forties and fifties and now me in my sixties, we decided that our T-shirt would say “We Know Things.” 

I know things about not knowing. That’s something. 

At our Zoom family meeting last night, I have never been prouder of all of you. Your dad has studied the economy for as long as I have known him. It was great to feel you reach into his educated mind and heart to help your families. It is not easy to look at trouble head on. Or to plan ahead. Or to prepare for something difficult that we have never experienced. 

But we can. We can learn. We are learning. 

Which, at last, brings me to the five-in-the-morning heart of the matter. We are being asked to learn something new and to do it with some humility, gratitude, and social concern. Remember what Laya said at Passover – that the New Zealand country phrase is “Be strong. Be kind.” My intelligence knows this. My life as a world citizen knows this. My life in community knows this. I actually know that YOU already know this. And still…my nervous system is doing a full sprint in the other direction. 

I may have told you this story already. Bear with me. It is a powerful story that came out of the kidnapping of a busload of school kids in Chowchilla, CA in the late 1970s. The kidnappers buried them and the bus driver in the ground inside an old cargo truck. They covered the open top of the truck with sheet metal and weighed it down with heavy batteries.  

After hours of effort, the bus driver Ray and the oldest boy, 14-year-old Michael Marshall, managed to wedge the lid open with a piece of wood and move the batteries; they then dug away the remainder of the debris blocking the entrance. (Wikipedia description).

The part of this story that is deeply useful (not trying to traumatize you) is that counselors were able to talk to these kids and the bus driver through their stages of recovery for several years after the trauma. The ones who did best were the ones who were able to help. To stay in action. To not freeze.

This has been a really powerful working story in my inner life. My tendency in fear is to freeze. I have worked diligently and with much help to learn how to keep digging. I have been blessed to be with each of you at different times as you turned and faced your fear full on. As you found your way into action. And got yourselves back to “home.” 

Your Dad and I share a powerful and extremely useful spiritual practice. We both are committed to intentional living. It feels like such grace to me to watch all of you practice your own form of this great life orientation. For me, that means a hundred time a day, realigning with The Great Love. You know that phrase I use? I rest in alignment with the Great Love. Ahavah Rabbah. My parents used to say that God was Love. They knew things. I have a not unbreakable but so far unshakable belief in the creative force of the universe. I believe that when I align with this bigger potential for my choices, I am closer to my best self. It has been one of the joys of my life that we share this practice – expressed in its own way – with all of you. 

The other deeply useful tool we all share is the capacity to be curious. Being close to our dear friend Scott as he goes into year 8 with stage 4 melanoma with brain metastases has been profoundly moving and inspiring. He gets grumpy and tetchy and scared. He is also constantly curious about what is in the now, what is life supporting, and how he can meet it. It is a kind of inner courage in action and I learn from him how to live not just in the moment, but into my fear. 

As I write this my nervous system is triggered and really uncomfortable. It hurts actually. I have learned to be curious about it, and kind to it but that has never meant it wasn’t painful. To pretend this isn’t deeply frightening somewhere inside would keep me from metabolizing and working with the fear that is a biological warning system in all of us. It is taking me a long time to differentiate between the useful fear that helps me work with danger, and the debilitating fear that is just a big pain in the ass. 

We all have our own ways of metabolizing stress. Dad and I talked after the call. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t kept the fear out of my voice. He was worried that he hadn’t totally achieved his intention of sharing his real understanding of the mess we are in with hope and tools to get through it. Looking at us, I can feel, deep inside our system, our boundless love for you. Love meeting fear. 

Just like Dad, and like all of you – I want to make my contribution to our family. I think one of my gifts is naming things. Words are really sacred to me and I believe they can, at their best, convey The Great Love and the Great Complexity. Right words can make it a little easier to rock the baby, the emotional life that regresses to a young place and needs to be comforted. For me, words have helped me shape my comfort and find my way back home. 

With abiding love and respect.

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