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Finding Meaning in Crisis

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Over my morning coffee today, a NYT Op-ed stood out to me in the midst of all the depressing news about the virus and the financial markets. This opinion writer spoke of how the pandemic is inspiring new levels of community engagement and volunteerism among everyday people. While this is certainly good news, I also view it is a bigger thing happening. With our lives slowing down in a big way, there is more time to focus on meaning and purpose. What a beautiful thing.

As for how we weather these challenging times? It is becoming evident, that, in the midst of a crisis, we can find comfort by connecting with what brings meaning to our lives, and it will surely that helps us find the strength to keeping moving forward. It makes we wonder, just as we Americans are free to exercise pursuit of happiness, is not the pursuit of meaning just as important? In fact, finding meaning may just pave the way for a more sustainable form of happiness. Don’t get me wrong, like everyone else, I find those quick hits of happiness on Netflix, or with my good friends Ben & Jerry and with a good long walk by the ocean. It is certainly easy and sometimes, ok, to actively pursue short-term hits to make us happy for the moment, but the longer-term plan needs to include what brings us meaning. Meaning is bound to produce happiness and when we can’t be happy, like during a pandemic, it will bring us peace.

My thoughts today remind me of a quote, by Frederic Nietche, which reads, “He who was the WHY to live can bear almost any how” – this was also referenced by psychologist Viktor Frankel in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, written during his years spent as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.

So how do we find meaning in each day, while we navigate the challenges and pitfalls of sheltering in place and maintaining social distance? The best answer I have heard is from a fellow congregant from this past Palm Sunday’s Zoom based service. A wise congregant said that as she delivered baked goods to a nursing home last week, she was reminded that no act of kindness, no matter how seemingly small, is un-important. Everything we do from a good intention creates ripples of meaning beyond what we can imagine – so whatever we do, however small, it's meaningful.

I do hope that we can be forever changed by this period in our lives, for the better. And, as we look back upon the pandemic, we will mourn tragedy while also recognizing the renewed sense of purpose it brought to ourselves, our community and our nation.

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