Beyond phone apps and deep breathing

by | Blog

 

The day after Israel’s third coronavirus lockdown ended we got a call from our good friend Eli. Eli had worked for years in Israel’s booming tourist trade but is now completely out of work. “We’re not far from your place,” he said on the phone. “We have the olive oil you ordered. Can we stop by and deliver it?”

Of course they could, and they did. Admittedly, a year ago, such an ordinary conversation would not have been worth mentioning. Today, however, our friends’ call and visit are noteworthy for at least two reasons. One, for the first time since Israel’s latest coronalockdown began, Israelis were again legally able to “drop in” on others. Eli and his wife, who live about six miles away, “traveled” (a word that is rapidly losing its meaning) the distance to our place without the prospect of being stopped and questioned by police.

The second, and by far most touching aspect of their visit, is that the oil they delivered was purchased from a merchant in Galilee. Eli, a sabra, has gone out of his way to patronize Israeli businesses that may be struggling during the lockdowns as well as to encourage others, like Marcia and me, to buy from small Israeli concerns. He took a phone order from us and others for the olive oil, placed and paid for the entire shipment and then delivered the goods.

Eli’s thoughtful efforts were not limited to boosting commerce. During the first lockdown, for example, he did volunteer labor at an agricultural kibbutz in the Jordan Valley and worked at a medical facility for the elderly in Jerusalem, setting an example for others.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is struggling not only at being effective but also at appearing to be evenhanded in their attempts to curb the virus. Many Israelis who are struggling financially have become hesitant, if not unwilling to cooperate. Some mall stores in Israel, for example, have opened for business in defiance of government mandates.

We are not in control

“Get vaccinated,” was a prominent recent media headline here, summarizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s best advice after his latest cabinet meeting about the coronavirus. “The virus is raging,” Netanyahu added, but the “rage” Netanyahu speaks of is not exclusive to the virus. Israeli citizens are also raging at the government’s virus threat assessment and its approach to combatting its spread, with universal lockdowns and puzzling school closings among their major complaints.

No consensus has been reached regarding best practices. While examining the same data as Netanyahu, defense Minister Benny Gantz called for opening up Israeli commerce and ending restrictions on travel. “When there’s no other choice, we shut down,” Ganz said according to Arutz Sheva, Israelnationalnews.com, “but when we can open up, we should. I think that right now we can and should start reopening… First, start with the easier things like lifting restrictions on movement [and] opening business where service is one-one…[S]tarting next week, we should start reopening schools… [W]e need to begin opening the economy in a gradual and measured way.”

Israel’s internal conflict is not unique. While the world is far from an accord on coronavirus matters, almost everyone agrees that the current pandemic, and the painful and unpopular measures mandated to combat it, have created an oppressive mental health environment worldwide.

Pastor John MacArthur at Grace Community Church, for example, summed up in a recent sermon the new challenges faced by his church in California. “[We were not] in control of anything,” MacArthur said, speaking of the year 2020, “absolutely nothing. This is the closest thing to the experience of a church in war. [This church has] been under a massive assault, and it took all the prerogatives out of our hands in some ways. Now all of a sudden all kinds of people were telling us what to do, what we could do and couldn’t do.

“This has been a season of trials without any equal in my rather long life. Everything has been taken out of our control. So many attacks. I told somebody that you might think we feel like a cork in the surf just bobbing up and down with each new wave, forbidden to meet, forbidden to sing, forbidden to fellowship, forbidden to have social events, forbidden to be with each other, forbidden to have funerals, weddings.”

No “self-helpers” in foxholes

Mental wellness professionals have tried (and largely failed) to help. Shortly after the World Health Organization’s declaration of pandemic, Psychology Today, in an online article entitled Coping with Coronavirus Stress, listed four strategies to help individuals maintain their mental wellness when contending with sadness, confusion, irritability, anger, uneasiness, suicidal thoughts and reduced concentration (to mention only some of the negative outcomes in their list).

The blog post, by Shainna Ali Ph.D., suggests four coping strategies:

  • recognizing stress
  • managing what can be managed and releasing what cannot
  • knowing one’s limits
  • practicing “self-care”

“If your go-to coping skills are difficult to use in the context of COVID-19 precautions,” says Dr. Ali, “be creative. Take the opportunity to explore related skills…perhaps you can use a workout app, follow a guided meditation, or practice deep-breathing from your home.”

“Go-to” coping skills?

While the pandemic morphs into a poorly written sci-fi film before our eyes, Psychology Today, the World Health Organization and others have thus far offered humankind little more than phone apps and deep breathing. Not surprisingly, the observed increase, worldwide, in suicide, depression and other mental illnesses has proven that “self-help” has fallen short.

Chaplain William Thomas Cummings is credited with having observed, in a field sermon delivered in 1942 during the Battle of Bataan, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” It seems we won’t find many “self-helpers” in trenches as well. Perhaps we would all benefit more from Eli’s example and direct our efforts toward helping others and applying faith.

“We do the best we can,” Eli told me after I thanked him for his example. “We trust G-d that we won’t get corona or that we recover quickly if we do. We trust Him to provide.”

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Note: Eli is not our friend’s real name.

 

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