27 Adar 5780.
Most of you are familiar with the excellent book by Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Written in 1992, the book revolutionized how many of us understand the unique language by which our beloved expresses and understands love. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it for enhancing even great relationships. There is nothing that sweetens even the best love affair like understanding what makes your dear one happy and implementing the nuances of his particular way of feeling loved.
During the Time of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 – may it be shorter than anticipated! – I am learning that there are several languages for coping with crisis. Here are five that I have discovered by communicating with friends online:
1. Facts and figures
2. Action and routine
5. Virtual battle
Susie* has been finding every shred of data she can about the course of this disease. She has read about different countries’ efforts to “flatten the curve” of the rate of infection in order to best treat the sick; she knows how many minutes the virus can survive on a particular object, and she knows how long to wait before she can safely handle anything without gloves. She knows that masks don’t protect people from getting the virus and should be reserved for health care workers and for those infected. She is not going out of her house unless absolutely necessary; she can visually calibrate two meters within a centimeter. And she wants to teach these facts to everyone.
Jennifer’s house has never been cleaner, more organized. She’s up at five, has exercised by six, and is baking or cooking her first new creation by seven. She is staying busy, and the sense of accomplishment raises her above her natural tendency to worry. Since it helps her so much, she is anxious to post recipes and photos to encourage her friends. She isn’t showing off. She really thinks others will gain as much peace from activity as she does.
Edna turns on the music as soon as she rises in the morning, lights a lavender-scented candle, and breathes deeply as she bends into a deep Uttanasana pose, nose to knees, finding her comfort in the flowing motions of yoga. Lena listens to every rabbi she can find on the internet who speaks of the deeper meaning of the pandemic, and recites fervently every recommended prayer and her daily-assigned portion of Tehillim. Each of these women finds strength and comfort in her language of coping and shares warmly with her friends.
Dierdre loves the cute memes and “in your face, Disease!” jokes her friends send, and passes them on as quickly as she can to as many people as she can. After all, laughter is the best medicine, right? Humor has always been her go-to method for dealing with any crisis. She recognizes that she sometimes doesn’t filter the funny… but this is war, isn’t it? Come on, people! Don’t let the terror get you down! And anyway, if she keeps laughing, there isn’t time to cry…
During the frequent battles that keep Israel in a state of tension, Rex distracts himself with war movies. There is a vicarious sense of fighting the bad guys, and in the end of the movies Rex prefers, the good guys defeat evil and save the day. During the pandemic, Rex is watching movies about global contagion and movies where superheroes fly into the fray and turn around what appears to the rest of us to be uncontrollable madness. He may or may not share his movie recommendations with his friends – but they definitely help him to cope with the feeling of helplessness.
Just as in The Five Love Languages, one person may choose to employ more than one of the crisis-management languages.
The point here isn’t to present a psychologically accurate assessment, nor even to give you coping mechanisms. You have your own, dictated to you by your very own crisis-management system. The point is to try to remind you that we all speak different languages. Susie needs facts and figures to give her a sense of power over the crisis. Jennifer needs to stay busy. Edna relies on soulful music and meditation to keep her mind healthy, while Lena prefers prayer and words of wisdom. Deirdre distracts herself by finding whatever scraps of humor she can in the situation. Rex watches movies that are initially immersed in crisis and disaster, but out of which simple human beings become superheroes. There are, no doubt, more coping languages.
The bottom line is that we all find comfort differently. I ask two things of you. First of all, understand that your friend isn’t shallow because she finds in humor what you find in prayer. She just copes differently. Secondly, before you send out that shotgun-blast of funny memes or doomsday data, know your audience. It just takes a bit of pre-send scrolling through her Facebook page. If this one is depressed by knowing exactly how many minutes or hours an object stays contaminated, think twice about sending. Information is good… but you can gently ask her, in your own words, if she’d find that information useful. If she’s an empath, sending her a video of a dying man isn’t needed to keep her at home. She’s already there, feeling intensely his pain, his wife’s tragic prayer, his children’s fear. And if she is wounded by those who see the situation as funny, who seem to be trivializing it with sarcasm – while this is certainly a legitimate way for you to fight the battle against fear and depression – don’t send it to her. She won’t get the joke.
Prayer and words of wisdom are always good but will have little effect on those who don’t speak the language. Share. Don’t inundate.
Be cautious of sending out facts or even seemingly “rabbinically-approved” concoctions that are guaranteed to protect you from contamination. There is so much that even the experts don’t know; but certain things are universally understood at this point. Stay home as much as possible. Keep your distance. Wash your hands.
And in the meantime, let’s remember that we’re all in this together. All of us, more than ever before in our lifetimes. Let’s understand each other as best we can, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and try to speak or at least tolerate each other’s unique coping languages.
*All names are made up. I am not referring to you specifically, love. Everything you have sent to me has been appreciated and either learned from or delightfully distracting. I'm just listening to everyone as best I can. Keep being yourself. You and I – we're doing fine.