Somewhere along the line during the COVID-19 lockdown, my sense of purpose began to fray. I started out my social exile pretty well. I kept busy. I had a routine. I found ways to contribute to the general well-being of my community. At least, I thought I found ways to contribute to the well-being of my community. As time goes on, I’m not sure I’m contributing much of anything, truthfully.
I spend time and energy each day sending notes, texts, and emails to family and friends and people who I think might be particularly isolated. I call people to let them know there is a world outside their doors that values and misses them. I figured out ways to hold meetings with church groups and friends using email, conference calls, and the zoom computer platform. I had to learn a bunch of technical stuff, which is way outside my comfort zone.
I feel like I’m doing a whole bunch of stuff, but I am beginning to wonder if it is stuff that actually needs doing. Maybe I’m fulfilling a need that doesn’t exist in the first place. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve expended a lot of effort on tasks that weren’t that vital. I think it happened a lot in my career. No one would ever say I am not a hard worker. Most people valued me for my reliability and my willingness to work till I dropped, not for any particular talent or skill I brought to the table. The problem is that I’m not sure all that work had much positive result. I’ve said in the past that a lot of what I did in my career was largely symbolic so it was really hard to tell if I was making any tangible difference. Sure, some of the work I did with individual clients did result in some positive outcomes, but finding the positive impact could feel a bit like trying to identify a particular grain of sand on a wide expanse of beach.
I feel the same way now. I’m not sure that all my efforts are netting any positive result. The first “virtual” meeting I held was a bit of a disaster. I think my friends appreciated that I made the attempt, but I also don’t think they thought the meeting was helpful in any way. On my next attempt, with a conference call technology, I had a small group of ladies who I think were just on the call to be supportive. Then, I started to hold video conference meetings, which were a little better, but I’m still not sure if they were really important to anyone’s well-being. The same is true with my individual touches. When I call or send a card or email someone, he or she sounds surprised. I think I am imagining more of a need to connect than actually exists. Maybe the only true need I am meeting is my own need to be busy and feel like I’m doing something valuable.
A lot of my feeling of pointlessness probably springs from the general loss of control I feel during these turbulent times. I’m used to being busy and active and helping and doing. Being in isolation with no real sense of when the world I used to know will open for business once again, it is difficult to be me without the busy-ness. I think I have been distracting myself from that sense of anomie by doing stuff to fool myself into thinking I am making a difference. The trick has started wearing off over the past couple of weeks.
Recently, though, I have had a few experiences that are pushing the pendulum back to the positive side. I received a lovely card from a friend of mine who is partnering with me in my “we may be physically apart but you are close to my heart” efforts. It reminded me why we are trying to connect. It also reminded me that caretakers need a little care, as well. I also received a beautiful card thanking me for some pictures I finally printed from my phone for the church scrapbook. The person who sent me the card seemed way more tickled by my efforts than they merited, but I appreciated the effusiveness at a time when I was starting to feel pretty irrelevant. I also received a note from one of the Operation Homebound clients to whom I deliver (actually, the proper term would be delivered before the COVID-19 interfered with a perfectly good, practical corporal work of mercy) meals. I was feeling horrible that the ministry was on hiatus to avoid spreading contagion and thought that I could least send “thinking of you” cards to the clients. This lovely man wrote back to thank me.
Then, there was a huge event that made me rethink my lifelong feeling of pointlessness. I had a phone call from one of my former clients from my working life. It has probably been seven or eight years since I worked with this gentleman. He happened to have my cell phone number because I called him from my personal phone once when I was on a business trip. I guess he, bored with quarantine himself, was puttering around on his phone and found my contact number. He called to tell me, over and over again, how much he appreciated everything I did for him and how I changed his life in such a positive way.
Admittedly, I was able to resolve what should really have been an insurmountable problem for him. There is no way that what we were able to achieve should ever have happened based on my thirty years of experience. The whole situation took literally years of time, every tool I had at my disposal, hours and hours of effort, and the intervention of the head of the entire federal government agency for whom I worked. It was, without a doubt, the most spectacular moment of my career. Maybe not my favorite moment. Maybe not my most important moment. Maybe not the accomplishment of which I am proudest. But spectacular? You bet.
Still, it was just my job. And it was just one person. I never really thought I could impute a worthwhile life legacy from this one event.
Now, after talking to my client almost a decade later, I’m not so sure. And maybe there are more people out there who I have helped- in my working life, in my retirement life, and in my COVID-19 life. I just may not be able to see the impact of my actions.
Maybe my life isn’t pointless, after all. Not to put too fine a point on it… but I have always said that I think my purpose in life is not to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. Maybe love is the only point that there is.
How have you found meaning in your life during the COVID-19 isolation? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually during this difficult time!