I’m Trying Softer in a Hard World

The world is ending.

What are you reading until it does?

I usually avoid sensationalism. In fact, I hate catastrophizing in any form. Perhaps because my father is an expert at it. Growing up, I would ask to sleepover a friend’s house and be met with, “what if you’re kidnapped?” A frightening retort to hear at 11 years old, I’ll tell you that.

Recently, I spent the day celebrating a friend’s birthday at the local Waldorf Astoria. A bottle was sent to our group of friends with a side of berries and juice, delivered by the maître d’hôtel. We drank it (of course) and when I mentioned it to my dad days later, he shook his head and asked me to consider that it could’ve been sent by the cartel because “that’s one way they pick and isolate women to entrap them.”

At first I was annoyed. Really annoyed. It was the Waldorf. In Orlando. You know? The family destination capital of the country. I remembered why I seldomly share details with him.

After giving it more thought, I realized it has taken my entire adult life to understand my dad and I did not grow up in the same world. He spent his youth defending national interests from communists at the border of Honduras and El Salvador. I spent them in New York City drinking free beer from a WeWork tap where my friends and I were paid to track digital trends.

When I visit my parents house these days, I brace myself for the inevitability that my dad will start up on the subject of who has recently died, and how. It could be a stranger on the news, a classmate he hasn’t seen in 40 years, a tragic event but he’ll tell me about some event or the other with incredulity. As I’m writing this it’s occurred to me that it’s a symptom of his own terrible fear of dying — something his particular brand of Latino machismo will never permit him speak about. The vulnerability it requires would be too costly, and certainly go against every rule that has helped him survive for 58 years. And that’s what he learned to do growing up in a country racked with political tumult — survive. If he can just see danger coming and clock its patterns, surely he can keep himself and his family safe from it.

Of course over the last few weeks, we’ve rediscovered just how illusory the sense of safety we create for ourselves actually is.

One of the reasons I keep myself from writing (publicly) at times is because the responsibility to say something when a tragedy occurs feels far too great. But it’s occurred to me it suffices to say the only thing there is to say: Things are terrible. I can’t fathom the choices Ukrainiana are forced to make right now because I’ve never had to. And there’s no way one could possibly know what it’s like unless you have also had to run from your home under the threat of terror. And I simply have not.

Thus, I let it be enough to pray that goodness and mercy follow every step of those fleeing. I pray they’re comforted by people rising up to this moment in history, to care and shelter. And I pray for citizens stuck under the chokehold a conflict they have no authority over. There’s historical and geopolitical complexity to this situation I won’t pretend to have a sufficient grasp upon. I hope that this will free you from the pressure of thinking you have to and that we can focus instead on any opportunities to alleviate suffering.

On the subject of alleviating suffering in its various forms, I’ve been reading the book Try Softer written by Licensed Professional Counselor Aundi Kolber. It discusses burn-out culture and how to re-integrate your mind, body, and emotions after experiencing high periods of stress. Written from the perspective of a faith-based application, I appreciate Kolber’s thoughtful consideration of the clinical as well as the practical.

Her chapter on our nervous systems has me thinking about is how ill-equipped we are at appropriately processing a terrible and costly tragedy that is completely divided from our lived experience. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to jazz play from the kitchen while my husband loads the dishwasher. I thanked God for the filtered water I poured in the bottle I’m holding. I’m fed, I’m warm, and I know where all of my loved ones are at this very moment. If I were given nothing else but the things I’ve counted around me, I’d still be unimaginably privileged. Full stop.

That can be true and yet I recognize so many of my friends (or myself) in Kolber’s writing. A generation of anxious workaholics running on mainly caffeine and the goodwill of their internet connection on any given day in the middle of a pandemic. And studies say it’s not sustainable. Go figure.

I recommend the book if you’re trying to understand your natural rhythms and how they stretch to adapt to our modern world.

Speaking of being stretched: that thing you didn’t get to do over the weekend? You’re off the hook.

I mean it.

You’re totally off the hook if you didn’t get to laundry, or meal-planning, or that work-out.

You’re alive.

You’re existing.

You’re on a huge rock floating through space as it orbits the sun and you’re doing fine. In fact, much better than you think in fact, if you’re here with me, because you’re among a friend.

One that will tell you the truth, though. And that is we indeed are all going to die, but not today.

Today we’re going to put our favorite playlist on, text someone that we miss them, and sit in our favorite spot to read the next chapter of a really good book.

Today, I promise you that’s enough.

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Author: RJ Bohyn

My name is RJ, I'm a writer and consultant based in the South. If you're reading this, you've arrived at the corner of the internet I've cultivated to share life, reflections on faith, style, and just about everything in between with those generous enough to read.

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