Summer 2004 I was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I remember that time as a time of celebration, awe, and inspiration. I felt overwhelmed in many ways. It was a sacred time in which I experienced the amazing support of my family, friends, and church community. I know that a lot of meaningful and loving words were said that day. However, I only remember one thing, one statement made by my pastor and mentor, the person who preached that Pentecost Sunday afternoon… Miguel, he said, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Frank’s statement caught me off guard and I wasn’t sure what he meant. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons it is the only thing I remember from all the wonderful things that were said that day… Thank goodness for CPE that has helped me see and understand more of what I needed and still need to hear from those words!
That exhortation, about not taking myself too seriously, has been on my mind in the last few weeks, perhaps not exactly with its initial intent but as a broader invitation to consider in these challenging times… How long have we been facing this indescribable tragedy called COVID 19? Almost two years! Talk about compassion fatigue and burnout… Just when we thought a few months ago that things were getting better, we were smacked once again with the insidious delta variant. After a horrible spike in infections and hospital admissions, we seem to be turning, once again, another corner. The numbers are going down! Some of us are feeling hopeful while some of us are bracing for another wave or the next fricking variant, but for sure, all of us are exhausted and drained! We can’t be immune to the emotional toll that this has caused in all of us. There is no vaccine for that…
Most of us are trying our best to care for ourselves and those entrusted to us, whether at home, at work or in the community, and I feel grateful for the amazing work that is being done in response to this pandemic. But let’s face it, despite our great efforts (which need to continue), none of us is at our best… and I am not talking only in our functioning but also in our heads and hearts. I see myself and those around me trying to put our best foot forward and “keep our chins up”, but inside, deep inside, we are wiped out… and how could we not be? Our resilience can take only so much isolation, loss, death, and grief… Many of us are on edge. I experience myself and others as more reactive than usual, and how would we not be when we live with a constant threat? Golly! It is actually a miracle that we continue to function and maintain some sanity in the midst of such chaos and danger…
Admitting that I am not at my best and hearing the challenge to be more compassionate to myself and others is probably what has caused Frank’s invitation “to not take myself too seriously” to emerge. I realize I need to claim the impact that this pandemic has had on me and give myself some grace… grace when it is it hard to be my best self and exhaustion and fears get the best of me. I need to stop judging myself whenever my grief and discouragement cause me to be more reactive than kind. I know I need not ignore the mistakes I make and the things I need to change, but taking myself too seriously only gets in the way of compassionate and growth-producing critical reflection.
So, for such a time as this, I want to propose that we don’t take ourselves and each other too seriously. The emotional toll that this virus has taken on us cannot be hidden by our efforts to put on our best face in such traumatic times… Please try not to take my reactivity and edginess too personally. I promise to try to do the same for you. I imagine, that like me, you probably are not at your best during these hard times either… We all have been affected by this calamity.
Rev. Miguel Santamaria is a Certified Educator at Morton Plant Hospital and can be reached at Miguel.Santamaria@baycare.org