Gene Lyons: Cynicism can't keep up with reality

Gene Lyons

I was going to write a column about finding joy in the simple things, about the importance of staying calm during the Age of Coronavirus, about how when you can’t do anything else, you can sing.

And then the kitchen looked like Goodwill after a cyclone.

And my son came in with more groceries that needed sanitizing. And we didn’t have any more wipes.

And I put a butternut squash in the sink to wash it off. And my other son came in and started washing his potentially virus-y hands right over the squash.

I wasn’t feeling all that great to begin with.

Is this what they mean by a tight chest?

“I’m so tired of this!” I shouted, picking up the squash and throwing it back into the sink bin with such force that it cracked the bin.

We’d done well so far in this alternate COVID-19 world, me and my two housemates, who by all rights shouldn’t be in this space with me — a 22-year-old son who’d been about to graduate from college and go far away, and his 31-year-old brother, who’d left a vibrant work and social life in D.C. to come home to help.

We’ve been singing and painting, reading poetry and cooking, washing our hands, disinfecting our phones and practicing the strictest of social distancing.

The other night, the guys had a bonfire, and when I looked outside to check their distance from each other, I saw they could have put a soccer field between them.

But then here in the kitchen was a moment when it looked like there might be more to this than always getting it right.

To be sure, my better self eventually kicked in. I apologized. I also reminded my sons — and myself — that these moments are going to happen, that this, too, shall pass, that we are doing well together most of the time, especially under the circumstances.

But for a fat minute I didn’t know which way to go. I felt un-leaderly, ashamed for not keeping the peace in the midst of war, for not following the rules as prescribed by the pundits, who tell us the future of the human race lies in our new and better attitudes toward each other and the planet.

Even as I was imploding over squash, Hollywood’s Matthew McConaughey was posting from his mansion about how we need to find stores of fairness, kindness, accountability, resilience, respect and courage.

Oh, is that all?

As an optimist and a mom who’s known for finding daisies in the mud, I have spent the last two weeks seeing this upheaval as, yes, a singular opportunity for the future of the planet and the human race.

But I’ve also been to enough therapy to realize if I am not feeling grief or trauma while this mass sea change is occurring, if I am not eating cereal for dinner or too many oatmeal cookies or wearing my pajamas all day, then I am either Gandhi come back to life, Thich Nhat Hanh in disguise or in serious denial.

I remind myself that it’s not only healthy to be aware of all our emotions, things get worse when we don’t.

“If we are likely feeling some apprehension, keeping it bottled up and denying it only makes it worse,” says emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf in the Fast Company article “Five Ways Emotional Intelligence Can Help Us Through The Coronavirus Crisis.” “We know that putting our feelings out there helps us to manage them as speaking them out loud lessens their impact on us. It also helps us connect and share with others who are feeling the same way. This normalizes what we are feeling and helps us feel connected and supported.”

So, no, this is not a column about finding joy in the simple things.

It is a column about being human.

It is a reminder that COVID-19 will provoke a full range of emotions, and that I will snap. It’s a reminder that when I do, I can apologize. I can see this as an opportunity to role model, how to navigate troubled times realistically, which will include messy emotions and its attendant clean-up. I can also tend my emotions by talking to a friend or a therapist. I can go outside, do something creative. I can meditate and pray. I can sing. I can practice energy tapping, a method of releasing energy available via YouTube. Most of all, I can remember I’m only human, a concept we supermoms sometimes have trouble accessing.

A few mantras are emerging around the pandemic, among them, “Flatten the curve,” also “Stay home and save a life.”

To this I would add: “Forgive thyself.”

Debra-Lynn B. Hook, of Kent, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at; email her at, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.

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