Delta Means Change (October 2021)

In branches of math and science, the uppercase Greek letter Delta is a symbol used to represent change. It measures the difference in a quantity. I can think of no more fitting name for the variant that has stretched this pandemic into its second autumn.

It’s impossible not to contemplate the difference between what is and what was supposed to be by now. And the persistent partner of such unwelcome change is a sense of our own bone-deep disappointment.

The pandemic has robbed us all of something over the past year and a half. Be it something small or something vital, we have all experienced loss since the first person died of Covid. Beyond that, we are still contending with the fallout of such change, and how it is yet shaping our future.

We all wanted to get back to normal this year. Most of us thought we would be by now. But the fire is not out, not yet. And it has burned the landscape to the point that it isn’t a place we fully recognize anymore.

So the question now before us is, How do you cope when unwelcome change is forced upon you? How do you overcome your own resistance to change when you have no control over how it plays out?

It is shockingly easy to fall into destructive coping habits. They’ve become so widespread that you’ve all heard the jokes about needing wine or tacos or Amazon to get through the day. Perhaps the most insidious survival mechanism is pretending nothing is wrong. It is hard to admit how deep the damage goes. But it is more destabilizing to ignore it and plow on with our lives as if nothing has changed.

The virus has robbed us of so much, so maybe the answer is that it’s time to take something back. Like the pinecone that doesn’t yield its seeds until fire melts its armor, the opportunity for transformation lies within us all, waiting to be revealed when the time is right.

Maybe what we need to do is walk unflinching into the fire if we wish to be transformed into a higher self who can be an agent of positive change in an ever-changing world.

I find myself altered by my own grief and rage over what the virus has taken from me. There have been many days where I struggled to accept these feelings. But: I no longer wish to run from them.

It’s time to accept my negative feelings as natural, even essential for my own growth. I do not wish to numb myself to them any longer. Because only by confronting them can I make space for the practices that will turn me into the person I want to be.

I prioritize spending time with the people I love, in whatever capacity it is safe to be with them, because I recognize now that they are so precious to me and our time together is fragile. I listen to music, read books, and paint, because the shared experience of being human that inspires all art helps us process that same experience. I come to church. I volunteer my time, because there are so many now who need an extra set of hands and someone with the bravery to reach out. I spend time in nature, or on my meditation mat, with my hand on my heart to feel that steady rhythm because I can no longer deny that it is not guaranteed. (You can do this right now, by placing your hands on your own heart, if you need a reminder of that connection.) I dedicate as much of my time and effort as I can to sinking my roots into the earth, which nourishes me, and anchors me, and reminds me what it means to be fully alive.

By nurturing each of these bonds to my living spirit, I’ve been able to grow something new, strong, beautiful, and joyful, even if at times these bonds taste faintly of the ashes of sadness. I place my focus squarely on what is good in my life, and on being there for others through thick and thin. By not running from the fire, I know more about myself now than ever before. The fire is scary but it is also clarifying.

And when it all feels like too much, I give myself the grace to rest and let others take care of me. It is in these practices that I can burn away my doubts, restore the balance to my life, and live my values authentically.

We all bear the scars of a period of more isolation than the social human species should ever experience. But by facing down our fears, we can get in touch with the most essential and eternal aspects of ourselves. We must nurture the tender knowledge of who we are meant to be so that we don’t become lost in the woods, but instead grow to become part of them.

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M.J. Lanum

M.J. is a journalist, author, and Unitarian Universalist lay minister. She lives in the suburbs of Boston with her husband, two children, and two rescue dogs.