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It even threatens the one thing we could always count on during these challenging times: Our proximity to one another and our sense of community.
I have been trying to breathe and remain calm, not add to the chaos, and be helpful where I can. But it has been tricky. Schools here in Seattle have been out. The days blend into one another as my partner and I try to figure out how to homeschool our six-and-four-year-olds. Or at least keep them occupied enough that they do not burn the house down. They seem to be fine at this moment, but I know that as this progresses, it will hit them that things are not normal, that everything is out of balance.
There are so many things to think about and juggle amidst heartbreaking stories and scary reports. There is real pain all over. A friend just texted me about her aging parents: “They were both crying. My mom got quarantined at the nursing home for a fever. My dad could not go in. He said 50 years and he has never been away from her.” Our aging parents and grandparents have never seemed more vulnerable.
Another friend texted about a healthcare professional colleague who has to reuse masks and gloves, gets no benefits from her job, and is a single mom with a son who has a compromised immune system (Why isn’t there hazard pay for people who are out there fighting the virus?!).
I know many of you are fighting serious battles, especially those who are working on the front lines while facing drastic cuts in resources at a time when demands are rising significantly. Many of us face a strong likelihood of losing our jobs or having to let people go. I hear colleagues tell me they have broken down crying several times.
At this moment, I have no idea what to do that would make things better. I’m exhausted from parenting, from worrying about my dad. I feel helpless hearing about my friends who have lost employment. I can’t focus. I can’t sleep. Even my sense of humor has been taking a beating, replaced more and more with anger and anxiety. Then I feel bad for feeling bad. But I realize that these are unprecedented times. Things are not normal. As we figure out what to do, we need to allow ourselves a moment to be ok with not being ok, and to feel whatever the hell we’re feeling.
So today, and these coming weeks, I want to let you know that it’s ok to feel hopeless, to feel sad and despondent, to feel our hearts weighed down with grief. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to be worried, to be scared at the uncertainty of whether we or the people we love will make it through, to be anxious that this crisis will worsen inequity for millions.
It’s ok to not know what to do, to feel helpless, to feel numb. It’s ok to be angry at our systems, at this racist and incompetent administration, at a society that favors the rich and powerful and screws everyone else. You can be angry thinking of our vulnerable community members, those with low incomes, experiencing homelessness, incarcerated, those who flee their country because of war and poverty.
If you are at a nonprofit, it’s ok to feel frustrated at a system that forces nonprofits to do many things that a functioning government should be doing, at the hunger-games-based funding philosophies that have kept us on the edge of starvation and unable to fully rally when our communities need us the most.
If you’re feeling any combination of things, it’s ok, and you’re not alone.
It’s also ok to be hopeful that this pandemic may make people realize that the systems are awful, that people will wake up, that society will finally be forced to acknowledge the injustice it has been perpetuating. You can daydream of a world that becomes better because of this crisis. Go ahead and laugh, find humor in these challenging times, and feel joy. If you can, don’t feel bad about taking a break to breathe and recharge.
It’s ok to feel all these emotions at once. You will cycle through them all. Whatever you’re feeling, it is valid. Take time to process, to think, or to not think. Things will likely get worse before they get better, and the battles ahead will be tough. But mixed with all the bad news are uplifting stories of kindness, of neighbors helping one another. Crises often reveal people’s true natures, and while there are tons of horrible people who hoard supplies and try to profit from this pandemic, there are so many more all around the world doing small and big things to help others.
And it is our mission, our collective mission as a sector, to fuel that wave of kindness, community, and social justice. We have always served as a beacon of hope and clarity, a glimmer of dawn when the night seems longest.
We will get through this. Take care of yourself, because our world needs you. Your work matters. And I’m there with you. When I’m not feeling overwhelmed and despondent, I am determined. This crisis shines a bright light on the many weaknesses in our society and in our sector, and gives us momentum to fight for some real change. When we are ready, let’s talk about building a better, more effective sector and a more just, more equitable community.
Thank you for all you do. I’ll end with this poem by Beah Richards, which has helped me during times when I feel scared for tomorrow. I hope it gives you a little strength as we face this challenge:
Today is ours, let’s live it.
And love is strong, let’s give it.
A song can help, let’s sing it.
And peace is dear, let’s bring it.
The past is gone, don’t rue it.
Our work is here, let’s do it.
Our world is wrong, let’s right it.
The battle hard, let’s fight it.
The road is rough, let’s clear it.
The future vast, don’t fear it.
Is faith asleep? Let’s wake it.
Today is ours. Let’s take it!
About the Author
There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it. He is going to do that, with the hope that one day, a TV producer will see how cool and interesting our field is and make a show about nonprofit work, featuring attractive actors attending strategic planning meetings and filing 990 tax forms.
Known for his no-BS approach, irreverent sense of humor, and love of unicorns, Vu has been featured in dozens, if not hundreds, of his own blog posts at NonprofitAF.com.
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