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Paradise Lost

I am sure if we looked hard enough, we would find someone, somewhere who has not been “affected” by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the purpose of discussion however, let’s just go with “everyone.”

Unfortunately, we are not yet to the point we can talk about what effects the pandemic had on everyone because we are still having them. The whole thing has been going on long enough even the ripples are making news. Even the most pessimistic of doom-sayers are scratching their heads wondering just how much longer this will go on. When, everyone is wondering, will we return to normal? When will we finally get a break and be able to heave that much needed sigh of relief?

Not surprisingly (at least to me by now), the writings of Richard Thieme rang true for me. It was not even a new writing that struck this chord, but an older one, reaching out from the past like some electronic Nostradamus.

In his article, “Looking for Paradise” dated 25 March, 2003, he talks about his time living and working in Hawaii as an Episcopal priest. On one particularly stressful day, he stood on the beach looking at a brochure for the neighboring island of Kauai. He looked longingly at the brochure and asked his wife if she wanted to go there and “get away” for a bit. She laughed at him and suggested he lift his eyes away from the brochure and look about him.

At this point, one might be inclined to think the message he was driving toward was that “paradise” was not something “out there” but was instead right where you already were. Obviously, this is not something any of us are likely to agree with right now, lost in the throes of a world wide pandemic.

Fortunately, this was not where the article was headed. Unfortunately, the real point will likely be much more difficult for many, just as it was for Mr. Thieme at that moment.

The article went on to discuss the ideas of peace and paradise, essentially treating them as the same, primarily because for most people paradise is the one place we will finally be at peace. In that sense, one can describe our daily lives as a quest for peace with paradise being our final destination.

The problem he realized, became obvious in his many dealings with troubled souls arriving in the islands seeking peace. At some point, each of them realized the very chaos they hoped to escape, was the chaos inside. The very problems they wanted to avoid, were the problems they had long ago bottled up inside and still carry with them everywhere they go.

Well, not many of us are probably sitting on a beach, alone with our thoughts right now, but we have found ourselves isolated and cut off from our usual diversions and support systems. We have all become troubled souls and the pandemic is our scapegoat. We are collectively holding our breath for the peace of “normal” to return.

Sadly, like Maui’s soul searchers, we are far more likely to realize peace and paradise are not something out there or coming soon. Being stuck at home, our lives restricted, our usual adornments stripped away, we are coming face to face with our own inner chaos. If we dare to look it in the eye, we realize the pandemic is not the enemy, the enemy is us.

So what do we do? If peace is not now and not following closely behind, what do we do? Option one, turn and run. Keep casting blame, picking fights, flinging your anger and fear about mindlessly. Option two, hunker down and let the wave roll over you. If you are lucky, the waters will recede and you can return the normal of the devil you know.

Or, there is option three, stare it down and make peace with it. Realize without your usual crutches, you cannot walk. Without your day at the office, your Starbuck’s latte or your favorite meal at Cheesecake Factory, you are left with nothing but you. When that happens, if you are not at peace with yourself, you never will be, truly at peace, no matter what happens or where you are.

More importantly though, if you are at peace with yourself, then no amount of external chaos will disrupt that for long. If you are feeling stressed or strained. If you believe this pandemic has ruined your life, or at least knocked it senseless, consider stepping back. Stop looking around and start looking in. This pandemic may succeed in stripping your old life away, but if you are brave enough, it may well help you find your new life.

P.S. My apologies for not including a link to the original article. Most of Richard Thieme’s works are archived at his site Unfortunately, I was unable to locate this particular one. The version of the article I read and reference above is in his book, “Islands in the Clickstream.”

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Paradise Lost

by Robert time to read: 3 min