Spring is beautiful in Texas. As new residents, we were unprepared for the abundance and the variety of wildflowers that seemed to spring up overnight. Although we live in an urban center, our apartment looks out over an undeveloped field which became a sea of bluebonnets. Our daily walks take us on a nearly two-mile pathway surrounded by tall grasses and flora with exotic names: indian blanket, mexican hat, pink evening primrose, brown-eyed Susan and many more. Purple martins circle in the sky above specially constructed nesting houses. The bird feeder on our third-floor balcony is busy morning and evening.
It is remarkable and humbling that while humans grapple with the impact of COVID-19, most of nature proceeds quite undisturbed. Life goes on. In fact, in many ways, nature seems to be benefiting from the lack of human activity.
This burst of new life that we observe is a gift at a time of confinement, social distancing and so much pain. Most joyous is the birth of our youngest granddaughter – Elizabeth Maeve Corcoran – in Seattle, Washington. Another granddaughter is expected here in Austin next month. Of course, we don’t know when we will be able to hug these new family members, but we are so grateful for FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp and other technological marvels.
Two themes have been running through my mind these days: the process of letting go, and role of humility. Many of us are being forced to let go of known ways of living and working. Plans and programs are put on hold indefinitely. None of us knows when we will be able to travel again or meet in larger groups. Everything is put into question. We rethink our priorities. Perhaps some things that seemed so important suddenly recede.
Leaving Richmond, Virginia to come to Austin last year was a time of letting go. Letting go of a known environment; letting go of name recognition to start again in a place where we are unknown; letting go of the security of a team with whom we had worked for decades. Now, having just begun to establish connections in a new city, even one-on-one meetings are cancelled. I am learning to be willing to let go and trust that the next steps will emerge.
Perhaps it is also a season of letting go things that hold us back from God’s fullest purposes for our lives. It may be pride, resentment, fear or ambition. Many years ago, I wrote a song which began: “Let go the thing you’re holding onto/ Let go the thing that holds you down/It’s time for ending with all pretending/You’re never going to need it anymore.”
It may also be a season for humility. There is so much that we do not know about COVID-19 and the path ahead. Even the experts admit this. In a recent column, Thomas Friedman interviewed Dov Seidman whose organization promotes values-based leadership. Seidman says, “In addition to truth and hope, what people actually want in a leader, even a charismatic one, is humility. I feel more certain in the face of uncertainty when a leader says to me, ‘I don’t know, but here are the wise experts I am going to turn to for answers, and here is how we are going to hunt for the answers together.’ The more I hear Dr. Fauci [head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases] say he does not know something, the more closely I listen to him discuss what he is sure of. Humble leaders actually make themselves smaller than the moment. They know they alone can’t fix everything. So they create the space for others to join them and to rise to do big things – together.”
The people showing the most impressive leadership qualities are the untold numbers of front-line workers in hospitals and grocery stores, the first responders and delivery workers who carry on courageously without any personal recognition and in many cases with minimal compensation. We count ourselves privileged because we have secure income, a comfortable home and no shortage of food.
Humility is not among the best-known qualities of Americans. The competitive streak runs deep. We are brought up to believe that we can do anything, that we are special. We claim this is the greatest country on earth. This present crisis is causing us to take a hard and uncomfortable look at realities that for too long we have been unwilling to confront. We may need the advice of good friends in other countries from whose experience we can learn.
As I write, we are marking Day 40 of our confinement. In this time of great uncertainty, let’s rejoice in God’s creation, be willing to let go what we don’t need, and claim the humility to learn from others.