I don't think I'm alone in experiencing a wildly dynamic range of emotions lately. On any given day, I am equally likely to be full of hope as I am to be heartbroken and frustrated. My sense is most of us are in this boat, and it's somewhat comforting to me that we are united in sharing such complex emotional responses.
What's less comforting to me is that I've noticed a troubling emotion creeping into conversations with friends, colleagues, and even in my social media feeds: that troubling emotion is guilt. Guilt when we feel badly about losing contracts or jobs when others are experiencing far greater financial hardship. Guilt when we complain about feeling isolated at home when others may not have a roof over their heads. Guilt when we think that positive changes might emerge from this pandemic when there is so much death and suffering.
This guilt worries me. It worries me because I don't believe that others' suffering more than us negates our own suffering. It worries me because the horrifying scale of global suffering and loss doesn't negate that positive systemic changes could actually result from this pandemic. These things are not mutually exclusive. We do not have to choose between having self-compassion or having compassion for others; we do not have to choose between being heartbroken at global loss and suffering or having hope for what we might learn from this. Either/ors are rarely helpful, particularly now when it's so incredibly valuable for us to honor loss while still maintaining hope, to honor our own emotional experiences while still having compassion for others' experiences.
There's something I fear we have forgotten amidst all that is happening: that we can hold space for hope and optimism at the same time that we hold space for hardship and loss. Sharp contrasts co-exist, and we are big enough to be a container for all of them. You are big enough to be a container for all of the them, for the good and bad, the ease and complexity, the peace and turmoil, the maddening mix of darkness and light, for love and for death. You are that strong and powerful. We all are.
Guilt doesn't serve any of us right now, nor does tapping down our self-compassion or hope for the future. Instead, let us step into that space that exists inside all of us, that space that allows us to wrap our arms around the entirety of the human experience. It is stepping into this space that will allow us to tap into love not fear, build bridges instead of division, and maintain optimism in the face of suffering. Let us not forget the immensity of space that each of us can hold.