While Standing (Six Feet Apart) On One Leg
May 18, 2020

Of all the Zoom conferences I had in the past two months, I had a most unusual one last night with my colleagues from Camp Erin. Camp Erin, if you don’t know, is a nation camp movement and my local camp a 2 day summer camp in Northern Pennsylvania. It is an unusual camp because it exists only to give grieving children 7-17 years old a place to process their grief and have a joyous summer camp experience. I had the honor of working there last year as a ‘bunk buddy’ – kind of like a cabin counselor but a little more than that at the same time.

That first summer was a remarkable experience for me and for the kids. I guess I did a pretty good job since I was asked to come back this year. I was really looking forward it. It’s an amazing opportunity to serve in a way that is very special and powerful. To embrace grief in children and help them journey through it is, to me, a great honor.

But in the midst of this God-awful pandemic, camp was cancelled as, I suppose it is across the country. So many visions and ideas for staff and faculty but especially for campers of all kinds are not going to happen. This is true no matter where the camp or what kind of camp. There is a loss of what could have been. And the grief and anger is real.

The clinical director of Camp Erin and the camp director had the insight that it was not just the children and their families that have felt the disappointment and grief and anger. Still, to continue the ongoing service of love to those families, they reached out and offered their support and encouragement and mental health tips. No, the important insight of the clinical director and camp director is that the staff and faculty were also grieving, each of us in their own way.

And so, last night for about an hour those of us who could gathered together around the Zoom bonfire and were given the update on camp, the vision for next year and were given a chance to share and tell our Covid confessions, the craziest thing we bought during this pandemic, and our greatest sadness. We heard mental health suggestions from our insightful and brillant clinical director who said, among other things, that for optimum mental health, limit your TV watching to 1/2 a day to get the highlights then turn the damn box off!

It was refreshing and an unexpected gift to share a laugh and share the sadness of things lost and opportunities we will never have again this year. And at the same it was also uplifting and inspiring as we looked to the future when we would be together. I think, for me, it was a way for me to connect with my future and it was a refreshing moment of inspiration.

We all need someone to help us understand our feelings from time to time even if we ourselves can’t really articulate them or are so busy attending to everyone else’s tzoris that we are not paying attention to our own. We may be so utterly overwhelmed with the troubles of others or so immersed in our own world of work and new responsibilities and priorities that we forgot our own mental health or spiritual needs. It’s not uncommon but it can be unhealthy. Having that non-judgmental friend whose honesty is real and whose care is authentic is as important to help us get through this pandemic as anything else.

There is good Jewish precedent for finding such a person. David has his Nathan even though Nathan was a bit to honest! But the best example of this, in my opinion, is Moses had his Jethro. When it was obvious that Moses was stretching himself too thin, Jethro knew it was time for an intervention. And he underscored his concern by saying, ‘Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you.’ The original Hebrew is poetic in its simplicity: וְהָקֵל֙ מֵֽעָלֶ֔יךָ וְנָשְׂא֖וּ אִתָּֽךְ – let others share your burden. Even Moses needed a mental health moment.

This pandemic is asking each of us to find resources we never knew we would be asked to look for. And the only real resource we have to find to explore those wells of strength, creativity, and perseverance comes from our own minds and hearts. But like any large moment, there comes a time when we can use help or just a small slice of time to tell someone what we are feeling in our hearts and our minds. There is no shame in sharing and there is not shame is being overwhelmed. There is also no shame in failing. But we don’t want to fail ourselves or our family and we want to be able to get out of this alive, well, healthy and with the acquired wisdom that only comes from an often-terrible experience. And more often than not, we need others to give us their knowledge and their wisdom to help get us out and pull us up.

Viktor Frankel was a Holocaust survivor and a neurologist. He survived the concentration camps of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering and Türkheim. And when he emerged from those pits of the hell people impose on each other, he wondered how and why some people survived while others did not. What he believed he found gave rise to the foundation of Logotherapy which is the theory that a person’s primary motivation to do anything is an expression to find meaning in life. In other words, those who find meaning tend to emerge relatively intact and the wells they dug to deal with a situation they can’t change is to change themselves with creativity and a vision for the future.

What we are going through is no Holocaust but the concept of finding a vision for the future still applies. Your vision, my vision is one of the strongest things keeping us balanced and relatively sane during this lockdown. Our rational minds are keeping us focussed on what needs to be done-work wise or school-wise. But our imaginative minds need to be part of the conversation just as much. It is our imagination that pictures a future out of our homes and back together with those we love.

But, unlike our rational minds that only need education which we can get from books, our imaginative mind needs inspiration which we can only get from people who take some of our burden. Don’t be afraid to share your burden or your insecurities during this strange and bizarre time. It will strengthen your imaginative mind and your imaginative mind is the mind we will need to rebuild after this pandemic is in the history books.