“Pillow Talk” for a Pandemic

Words of Comfort and Joy!
October 30, 2020
Our Pledge to Help Heal the Nation
November 16, 2020

By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF  

Some years ago on a vacation in northern Michigan, my sister Karen and I were browsing in a gift shop—the kind that caters to tourists and where one rarely buys anything due to outrageous prices and the internal reality check that kicks in to say “I don’t really need that.”  But this time, Karen did buy something. For me.

I had seen a clearance bin of burlap-covered pillows stamped with pithy sayings. One saying leaped out at me: When was the last time you did something for the first time? The pillow made me smile. I picked it up,  walked around the shop with it, and finally put it back. However, Karen waited for me to walk out, bought it, and presented it to me as an early birthday gift.

I still have that pillow; it sits on the chair in my office. I love the challenge it always offers—a call to break out of the sameness of everyday thinking and acting to try a fresh approach. It reminds me that there ARE many other ways of responding beyond the patterns with which I am familiar and comfortable; it challenges me to take the time and effort to discover these and try them out.

These months of COVID and forced quarantine have certainly deprived us of personal freedoms and imposed boundaries on what we can and cannot do. It’s now been months of no restaurants, weddings, graduations, baby showers. No nursing-home visits. No travel. No funerals, jubilees, anniversaries, birthday parties. No Masses.

However, we can choose how we see these shifts. COVID times can be “half-empty” or “half-full.” Our patterns of working, praying, resting, recreating, socializing and learning have indeed been changed—but have also made room for possibilities we may have never chosen before. And in those shifts is also the room for “doing something new for the first time.”

I have learned that one of the best ways to cope with our “quarantine losses” is to imagine what we can create in their absence and then ACT on those choices. These don’t have to be large or exotic—in fact, we can make many small twists on our everyday living patterns:

  • Cooking or baking recipes from cuisines we’ve never tried before—Indian, Creole, Spanish, Chinese (Chicken Tikka Masala, anyone?);
  • Connecting by phone with that long-lost colleague, friend or relative;
  • Trying a hobby we’ve never attempted: Cross-stitch? Growing herbs? Watercolor? Adult Coloring?
  • Praying in a new (or long-abandoned) style: The Franciscan Crown? Mantras? Mandalas? Centering Prayer?
  • Listening to new—or old—music: World rhythms? Rap? Bluegrass? Gregorian chant?
  • Writing and illustrating a COVID diary reflecting your thoughts, poems, stories, experiences;
  • Choosing a “Heart Question” and sharing honest reflections weekly by phone with a trusted friend;
  • Joining an online social experience: a Book Club, a faith-sharing group, a senior support chat;
  • Exercising physically however we’re able: walking, stretching, cardio, yoga, chair aerobics;
  • Learning: Challenging our mind with online reading or web study– a foreign language, literature, spirituality, cooking, art…
  • Watching: Using TV or tablet screen time to explore new programming– foreign films, documentaries, nature series, PBS dramas– beyond what we normally consume.

And on and on. Choosing any/ all of these will not make COVID restrictions painless and pleasant, but the act of creatively choosing how to adapt is in and of itself an act of agency and free will. We DO have a choice as to how we will live through this moment in history. In fact, I believe we can further adapt my pillow verse even more creatively in this time:  When was the last time you did something for the first time– wearing a mask?

Sister Judith Ann Zielinski

Sr. Ann Marie Emon

Sister Judith Ann Zielinski has found a ministry telling stories, in which she communicates how others contribute to the greater good. She serves as the Director of Faith & Values Programming at NewGroup Media, in South Bend, Indiana, a position she has held since 2002.

She is a writer and producer of multiple broadcast and non-broadcast programs, that have taken place nationally as well as internationally.

In 2018, Sr. Judy celebrates her 50th Jubilee as a Sylvania Franciscan.

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Sister Irie

Sister Judy I enjoyed your pillow-talk very much. During these COVID months while I am here at home and not able to be working at Rosary, I have found many different ways to use my time. If you think about it, there are so many possibilities and you named a few I have been doing. I never seem to run out of ideas. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My prayers are coming your way. Blessings upon you.

smthill@bex.net

Loved your suggestions and found that I’ve actually been doing some of them!
Happy Birthday a day late! My prayers for you were on time.
smt

Sr Brigid O'Shea Merriman

Thank you for your uplifting “pillow talk” blog. I found it very refreshing, and also enjoyed reading your list of creative new ideas. I’ve done something similar these past months,, though not the fine variety you shared! I wish you every blessing, including continued good health; also, many opportunities to be refreshed each day

Sharon Havelak

This morning at a ZOOM meeting (a new experience since COVID began) someone remarked that looking at the glass half-full or half empty begs the question; the glass is always refillable. Thanks, Judy, for reminding us of many ways we can keep our lives full and meaningful. Your blogs always stretch us and offer wonderful insights!