Mike Matthews photo

Mike Matthews

”It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable.”

Charles Darwin

Juanita Green of Louisville recently celebrated her 106th birthday. Born March 12, 1914, she has experienced many things, including the roaring 1920s, a period in American history of dramatic social and political change. Juanita also lived through World Wars I and II and a number of other wars and military conflicts, the Great Depression, major political and ideological divides, and even the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic when about one-third of the world’s population caught this acute respiratory tract infection and the death toll was estimated at between 20 and 50 million. Last year, she had two falls, broke two ribs, and spent two months in the hospital — not too good. Yet she told WDRB news that her motto is to count every day as a blessing and to live each day at its best. That sounds like great advice to me.

Welcome to a new decade and a new roaring twenties as 2020 has started with even more chaos and uncertainty than we could have ever imagined in our worst nightmare! The roar of 2020 is like the threatening roar of a hungry lion as the oatmeal has really hit the fan with the global spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which is unprecedented in our modern world. We are truly in a crucible of painful, uncharted territory, and we must follow all reasonable measures our medical community is providing to us to help prevent the spread of this horrible virus. The disease has caused a cascade of emotional and physical pain and a tsunami of waves and ripple effects over which we may feel we have little control. We may not be able to stop the waves, but we can learn how to surf them to achieve the best chance for a good personal outcome by practicing good physical and mental hygiene.

To be alive in 2020 is to hear the roaring of a suffering world in many ways, with the mass media’s earlier maniacal focus on our differences in our political and social views changing and taking a temporary back seat to the universal fear of a repeat of the 1918 flu with the coronavirus. What has not changed is our evolutionary human nature, which generates a propensity toward fear and reactivity instead of functional responsiveness. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” When training correctional employees, I always used the term “Run toward the roar or get out of the field” because, like our world as a whole now, we must all come together and have the courage to face the ravenous lion of the moment.

While the daily increasing trauma we are facing with the coronavirus involves all of us collectively, the way out of our throttled mental states requires we act as individuals to impact effects on our personal lives and the healthy life of our human species. This is a time that our problems seem so overwhelming on a planetary level, we feel almost hopeless with no idea how to impact change in any significant way. However, we can always take control and exercise power over our personal reactions to problems. When in the middle of difficulties like we are facing, it’s easy to construct a worldview of pain with no end. I’m an eternal optimist who gets excited when I get a flat tire because the other three tires still have air, but I cannot put a pretty face on this pandemic. Instead, I choose to have deep faith, which includes this harsh experience we all are going through.

Faith is the profound acceptance of life’s ultimate goodness even when we feel defeated and exhausted by all of our worries. Life always presents hurdles and challenges and we will push through and be on the other side of this crisis eventually by using our God-given will, grit and fortitude. We can and must learn from this difficult experience beyond the terrible circumstances and commit to apply our resilience to every day that we are blessed to be given by maintaining an attitude of gratitude, instead of having a bottomless pit of grievances that may seem petty now in the light of our current crisis. We can use this experience to commit to a daily deeper connection to others and to our own meaning, purpose and values and to see clearly how just one person can affect everyone either positively or negatively.

As the coronavirus is causing our world to come to a grinding halt, maybe it will provide you time to evaluate your life and give you some grace in your normally hectic pace. Juanita Green’s advice — to count every day as a blessing and to live each day at its best — could not be more applicable to our roaring lion of 2020. We may feel we have little influence over what is “out there,” but “in here,” in your own psychology, we have plenty opportunities for taking control. Our lives are not determined by outside conditions (which I realistically believe will get temporarily worse), but by our decisions. Please join me in committing to do everything in your power to live every day with a positive mental state of mind no matter what happens, and be a meaningful elder and role model for our youths, who need examples at this time of adults who can “do hard” and still remain grateful and radiantly happy for life.

Mike Matthews is a retired teacher, counselor and mental health administrator with a mission of creating a healthy and cohesive community.

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