By Frederick Riley
The other day I was on a daily check-in call with my mother, reminding her to stay in as much as possible and a little parenting my parent. The conversation shifted and I began to complain about being locked in my condo in DC alone, how I had gone through everything in my Netflix queue and how I was in desperate need of a visit to a barber.
My mom, who often reminds me that our roles have not shifted, she is indeed my parent, and that I’ve not always had a privileged life, then went on to say, “Well, son, I’ll tell you, life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” – which is a line from the Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son.” She went on to remind me of my childhood and some stories of hers and how life for some has and will always be a crisis and how you learn to manage.
Here are some of the ways she taught me to live, love and lead during a crisis.
- Sharing & Caring: We hear stories of people stockpiling tissue and paper towels. My mother reminded me that she and her sisters would often share food stamps and food from already near bare freezers and pantries. She reminded me that she often worried how she and my siblings would eat, but those acts of kindness and solidarity made her feel as if she’d accomplished something and it gave her value in very trying times.
- Perspective: As a kid my mother would remind us that, even though we had some hardships, it was indeed worse for other people. I grew up in Saginaw, MI and experienced food insecurities, evictions and much more, but there were still those amongst us with bigger problems. She reminded me that others are experiencing COVID-19 different from me and I should be thankful for the luxuries that I have, instead of worrying about those I don’t have.
- Find the Lesson: I was reminded that for every great finish line crossed, there was a race that had to be run. There are societal, individual and personal lessons that we must all grapple with during this time. Spend some time going inward, finding opportunity to grow and come out better because of this time. Rainbows only come after rainfall.
- Faith: As a kid growing up you could often find me in church throughout the week. It was a way of life and a sense of security in a life that often felt insecure. Although I rarely participate in organized religion as an adult, I firmly believe in a higher power as the guiding force in my life and the lives of others. Whatever your faith or non-faith, spending time quietly connecting with god or the universe can ground you at a time when life’s foundation feels rocked by the force of an earthquake.
- Family: My childhood, although marred with crisis, was filled with much love and family. I don’t remember a time during my childhood that wasn’t filled with Sunday dinners spent with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who became family. Family was how we made it through. We pooled resources, shared emotional strength and showered love abundantly. Although physical distance is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19, phones and videocalls allow us to strengthen the relationships that our busy and selfish lives allowed to wane.
Crisis affects each of us differently. There are tons of stories of human kindness and selflessness, but also those of selfishness. We need to decide how we want to come out on the other side of COVID-19. Over the next few weeks, I will find ways to share and care, think about the perspectives and plights of others, search for lessons of growth, strengthen relationships with family and friends, and dig deeper into my faith.
We will all come out of this differently and changed. Let’s figure out how we can come out on the other side of COVID-19 better because of it.
Frederick Riley is executive director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project.