The quarantine and forced Isolation that began here in the United States in March has had a significant effect on many lives. It certainly forever altered my life; it has molded me into a new and hopefully better person. My view of the world has softened. I now see the need we all have for friendship and companionship. I recognize the importance of community in a way that I never have before. But what it really did was afford me the opportunity to feel very sorry for myself, and I have to tell you, I took full advantage of it.
After my wife of nearly 20 years passed, I spent the next three years alone in grief and as my sorrow lessoned and I began to breathe again, I made the decision to make a fresh start. I sold my home, packed my belongings and moved across the country to a new city that I had wanted to live in for a very long time. I arrived with a sense of optimism, knowing that I was going to reach out, make friends, join a spiritual organization and begin my new life; I drove into my new city the same day the quarantine order hit.
All “nonessential” businesses closed. This included churches and meditation centers and all the gathering places where it would have been possible to meet people. I was utterly alone in a new place where no one was looking to make connections; I sank into a deep depression.
For three months I wallowed in “poor me, why me, why God, why?” All declarations that I had not yet accepted my current circumstances. I have always believed that radical acceptance is a required part of our spiritual journey but this challenged my faith in a benevolent God.
Finally, I realized that I had to do something to help myself or I was going to start entertaining suicidal thoughts. After much prayer and long conversations with God, I realized that the way to help myself was to help others. My way to navigate through the loneliness and isolation was altruism.
Altruism means having an unselfish concern for the well-being or welfare of others. We have to set aside our small and separate sense of self in order to reach out and assist other inhabitants sharing this planet with us. And in doing so, we help ourselves as well. I decided, if I couldn’t live outside the box, at least I could think outside the box. I went online and learned how to create and build my own ministerial website and then built it. I joined a spiritual community, and through Zoom began to teach and minister online. I started writing more and publishing articles such as this one. I made the effort to reach out in altruism.
Everyone knows the “aren’t I wonderful” side of egoism, but few people realize that “poor me” is also a side of egoism; they are different sides of the same ego coin. One is self-aggrandizement while the other is self-recrimination and pity. But either way it’s the same me – me – me. It was time to set aside the me – me – me and start putting others first. Slowly, through altruism my depression lifted, I was still alone, but now I was preparing for a brighter future. I could see a light through this lonely tunnel and that light was altruism.
The last few years of her life, my wife would say to me “Michael,” and you know when your spouse uses your full name you better pay attention. She would say “Michael, if you have a choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness.” I would add to this and say: if you have a choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness… and then act in kindness every day, even if in the smallest of ways: do something for someone else – unsolicited, smile and remain calm when you feel like yelling, give the gift of unearned kindness. After all, couldn’t unearned kindness be a definition of GRACE? Could it be that God, through you, extends his grace to help others by acts of kindness?
When we help others, not only do we expand our own consciousness but we expand the whole world’s consciousness as well. Then we are contributing on a global scale, right where we are. Through spirit and acts of altruism we feel connected to all life, everywhere.