To my service-connected sisters and brothers,
My family and I are currently stationed in Milan, Italy and have been living in the reality of the coronavirus for nearly a month. Quarantines, decrees, and closures have been our reality. The once bustling streets are silent. The lively restaurants are closed behind barred windows. The priceless artwork and architecture stand alone, waiting for admirers to return. The restrictions didn’t come all at once like a tidal wave, but instead slowly trickled in. At first, we couldn’t leave the country, then the province, next our town, and finally even movement outside of our house was restricted. As the sphere of our movement and accompanying freedom steadily decreased, it was easy to feel like we were drowning in a sea of chaos. It took a few weeks of processing for me to be able to take a deep breath, look out onto the horizon, and see the bigger picture. I am not writing to compare, lecture, or seek pity, but to share lessons learned in hopes that they may ease your journey through these uncertain waters.
- Choose gratitude | The United States Military Academy mantra, “Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong,” rings through my head on a daily basis. It is easy to begrudge the new restrictions, lament trips not taken, or complain about cancelled events. It is harder, but necessary, to choose to embrace the opportunities to connect with our nuclear families, and take a break from outside commitments. We should take heart in the fact that in our normal lives we are healthy enough to play sports, wealthy enough to take leisure trips, and blessed enough to have loved ones in our lives. Purposeful gratitude can help us recognize the blessings brought on by even the worst of situations.
- Create your new normal | Our routine was completely disrupted by the various decrees. School for my sons was cancelled and eventually moved online, my husband began working remotely, and all of my volunteer work was postponed. In short, no aspect of our days stayed the same. At first it was uncomfortable and clunky. But now, three weeks in, it feels smooth. We adjusted wake-up times, changed how we gathered for meals, and added in activities to keep us all sane. Just because there is chaos in the outer environment doesn’t mean that it has to permeate your household. Instead of throwing your hands up in frustration that your plans have shifted, open them to the possibility of creating new opportunities that were previously impossible through creative planning and scheduling.
- Seek novelty | After a few weeks of instituting our new normal, I began to feel a bit restless. It felt like every day was exactly the same as before. I missed the days of trying new restaurants, meeting with different friends, seeing other landscapes. I realized that I missed the diversity that our lifestyle had so bountifully provided. So instead of seeking that novelty from the external world, we began infusing it in our internal reality. I began cooking recipes I had pinned but never gotten around to trying, started a new online yoga practice, and dug out dusty board games. Sure, our weekends aren’t as adventurous with international travel as they previously were, but there were sparks of curiosity to be found inside the four walls of our home.
- Practice grace | Adjusting to being in close quarters twenty-four hours a day with your loved ones will bring out the best and worst in everyone. Tempers flare and fuses grow short with the increased interaction time. But it is during these exact moments of frustration that we have the biggest opportunities to show grace. Our kids are just as exasperated as we are that they can’t see their friends. Our spouses are just as out of place not going into the office as we are having extra people in our space during the day. When we can slow down and empathize, we strengthen connections and build lasting bonds. But our grace shouldn’t be reserved for just those inside our house. I work to be extra friendly to the cashier at the grocery store, smile at the garbage collector, and be patient with the restrictions that may be unnecessary to me but lifesaving to others.
- Control your narrative | As a self-proclaimed control freak, this was the hardest step for me. In the beginning, it was maddening to have my plans cancelled or changed on a daily basis. After running my head into the proverbial wall multiple times, I realized that my energies were much better spent controlling what I could and holding loosely what I couldn’t. I could no longer control where I traveled, when I shopped, or whom I interacted with, but I could control the narrative in my head. I am in charge of my own happiness and how I choose to see the world. The government may control my circumstances, but I choose my emotions. If the story in my head is one of frustration, that was my doing, no one else's. I could consciously choose to see the benefits to the boundaries and this shift was immensely empowering.
In closing, I want to encourage you that we, as a service member community, are uniquely equipped to handle the current climate. Uncertainty isn’t something we are unfamiliar with. In fact, I find it to be quite the opposite. Service member spouses consistently thrive in rapidly changing environments. We are accustomed to orders being changed, being isolated from friends and family, and being worried for the health/safety of our loved ones. Let us take all of these life lessons that we have learned and use them to help our larger communities. Let us be the ones who lead the way on this initiative. Let us be the ones that show the rest of the country how to stay calm amongst the chaos. Let us show grace during the gales. Let us thrive in the midst of turmoil. Let us join our hearts together, watch for ways we can help our neighbors, and venture forth into whatever the future holds with grateful and curious hearts.
From Italy with love,
Katie Christy, Director of Development