Living with the Virus: Kick It Until You Kick It

“It’s nice sometimes to open up your heart a little, and let some hurt come in. It proves you’re still alive.”

The past few weeks, I’ve done just that. COVID-19 has allowed us to become more in touch with ourselves and our families than we have been in years. It forced us to slow our busy lives down; to touch parts of ourselves that have been so dormant that their dust has crusted. It made us stop and listen to our hearts; to observe the gentle beating that we haven’t felt in ages.

The words quoted earlier are from Rod McKuen, a poet whom many young people have never heard of, and a man whom much of my generation has forgotten.  He was an icon and an advocate for the underdog; he protested against the Vietnam War, marched for gay rights and wrote about being human. While seeking to help heal friends in their seclusion, I rediscovered McKuen and shared his poetic jewels with others. When reading his works, we were amazed at the brilliance they reflected.

I shared these nuggets with a friend going through a particularly difficult time, and he asked for the liberty to share an experience with you all. His father had died on his wife’s birthday. Rather than share this immediately with his sons, he waited a few days. Upon hearing this news, his older son was a bit sad as he told his dad, “You didn’t let me be sad with you.” My friend’s story became mine. I felt his pain in my body. His loss became mine.

So many of us squander opportunities to connect by not allowing others to be sad with us; to help us. We wander through mountains of feelings and valleys of deep despair alone, rather than seeking out others in our valleys; without waving to those on the mountaintops that we’re climbing toward. We must remember we are not alone. We must remember that it’s not our joy that embraces us, but our sadness that lingers that helps us understand who we are.  

As this young boy told his dad, be vulnerable enough to hug others in the midst of your pain; comfort other wounded souls in order to comfort your own. Share in both moments of sadness and moments of shouting your joy. This trajectory will help you get through more than you believe you could manage. 

I teach speech, and for the last two years since my bout with prostate cancer, I’ve focused on heroes. It’s been trying to teach remotely, and to not be able to see my students in person anymore.  I do a weekly Facebook post on heroes. At 70 years old, I know my journey here is almost done, so I’ve tried to be more resolute with my instructions. I’ve shared my fears with my class, encouraging others to recognize their own strength. I want to inspire my students to realize that they can do more than they thought they could, as they inspire me through their stories. I’ve relished to the point of tears hearing about their heroes; how they found the courage to accept that who they are is larger than what they do. They talked about their mothers, dads, grandpas, brothers, boyfriends and girlfriends who are genuine, caring and real. My students shared about being protected, saved and loved. 

This virus has become a sort of an anti-hero; it has taught us that if we can pull ourselves away from the politics and the science, we will see that we are capable of clothing ourselves with a hope that will get us through.

So take a moment. Inventory the day. Before we get too wrapped up in what is not us, take what we have found and move forward. That’s growth. That’s hope. That’s the cure to restoring our humanity. That’s the efficacy of becoming real and humanized again, and better for it. Because if we have not learned anything from this, has it really been worth it? 

This time to be alone is precious. “It proves we are still alive!”

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Archie R. Wortham, Ph.D.

Dr. Archie Wortham is a father, husband, educator and writer. He has taught for 40 years at all levels, including elementary, middle and high school, and at fourteen colleges, universities and institutions of higher learning on two continents. As a professor at Northeast Lakeview College, Dr. Wortham currently teaches speech, where he developed the first males-only college speech course taught in the Alamo College District. With his cutting edge idea, Dr. Wortham was a pioneer focusing on males absence in college classrooms (as there are few male-only classes taught at the college level in the nation). His current focus is on heroes, and he does a weekly Facebook post on heroes. Dr. Wortham is a sought after speaker and the recipient of two George Washington Honor Medals from the Freedoms Foundation; two Lifetime Gold achievement awards from the President of the United States for volunteering; and numerous military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. As a retired military member, he has received NLC's highest award, its Spirit award, and he was NLC's first Teacher of the Year.