Opening the squeaky green screen door to the old porch, I’m expecting a jolt of frigid air, but instead I’m met with the sound of palm trees gently blowing in the warm breeze. Yes, spring is here, and judging by yesterday, it may be an early summer.

Speaking of palm trees, this week is Spring Break, and our plans to escape to a hidden tropical paradise have been replaced by a staycation. It’s just not worth the risk of infecting or being infected. So, to give my lovely bride the week off she hoped for, the kids and I have agreed to cook all the meals for the week. And since we’re staying put, we have time. 

This week I’ve been pondering what I might say today in light of what our world, and our country, are facing. It’s not an easy task, because ignoring the situation and pretending it does not exist would not be prudent. On the other hand, overreaction and panic aren’t very pleasing either.

A Rant

I have to say that I’m highly disturbed by the irresponsibility of the media, and their bloodthirsty taste for ratings. They are so driven to drive ratings and ad dollars that they don’t realize they have pushed the country into overreaction, where hoarding is taking place so others cannot get essentials, and they are placing millions of jobs at risk because of this overreaction. I’m a little ashamed of them at the moment. They have us on the edge of our seats, as if our very survival depends on their next report. It sickens me.

I’m also concerned about the lack of civility among some people during this crisis. Panic is simply not necessary. 

We never really know how we’re going to react to a situation until we face it. 

The Higher Road

Laurie and I learned that recently during the cardiac arrest of our son Brady, who almost did not survive. In spite of our tears, our fear, our panic, our need for answers, we both surprised ourselves with how cool and collected we managed to be in spite of it being the worst day of our lives as parents. Though we were jolted into it in a moment, we managed to stay civilized, cordial, grateful, and appreciative to others even though we wanted to scream. That showed volumes to our other kids, who looked to us for how to respond. We’re being responsible and not panicking in this situation as well.

When I was a child, I was terribly afraid of tornadoes. They came almost instantly, with no warning, and would devastate a community within minutes. As an adult I always said I’d rather live in a hurricane zone, because they could have three or more days’ notice.

A Word We Never Thought We Would Speak

Now you and I are faced with a pandemic — words we never believed we would be uttering in our lifetime. Something we believed happened in the old days, when medicine was less sophisticated. Yet this is a hurricane, not a tornado. In other words, we know it’s coming, we know it could be horrific, but we have some time to prepare ourselves. Time to prepare is a silver lining in this dark cloud.

Silver Lining to a Dark Cloud

I’m no expert, but I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on, and the most important action we can take to prevent the spread is voluntary isolation from others. That means avoiding places where you could spread a virus you don’t know you have, and avoiding coming into contact with it yourself. I’ve spoken to friends in Italy, and they reinforce that need for dramatic action. It turns out that many are loving the time with family, the time to reconnect, and a chance to be home. Again, a silver lining. But gatherings of any size at this moment are simply irresponsible. We don’t have a clue who is a carrier. You or I could be and would not know it.

While others are screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater, my goal is to be a voice of reason, to let you know that everything is going to be OK. Though there will be some difficult moments, the actions to reduce the spread are actions that may get us on the other side of this nightmare sooner.

You Are Strong

I want you to know that you are strong and that you can step up and handle things that you never believed you could handle. There will be a day, probably in the not-too-distant future, in which this pandemic will be over, and we’ll look back knowing we made it through. It’s important to keep our eyes on that day, because the worst days could feel pretty grim.

Drinking Battery Acid

Keep in mind that fear and panic are the enemies of your fellow man, and of your own health. My health coach tells me the immune system is damaged by fear, panic, and stress. The best way to keep your immune system strong is to keep stress at a minimum, get lots of exercise, eat well, take your supplements (according to him, large doses of C and D3 are important in this case), drink lots of water, and keep your attitude in check. Try to keep a smile on your face — it changes your physiology. And worry serves no purpose. In fact, worry is like drinking battery acid: It’s toxic to your health.

Instead of freaking out when there are announcements of actions being taken, I’m embracing these actions. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner we shut everything down and isolate us all from one another, the sooner we’ll see the sun again. 

Meanwhile, I’m making some welcome changes in my lifestyle. Though I go to the gym daily, I’m now avoiding it. Instead of a treadmill, I’m taking walks. Instead of lifting weights, I’ve decided to use some of this time to lift some heavy boxes in the garage to the trash. And instead of risking exposure at a yoga studio, I’m watching yoga on YouTube and doing it with our two dogs. It’s important to keep exercising to ward off disease.

I refuse to panic. I’m probably the only American who didn’t stock up on toilet paper. I refuse to be the guy who keeps others from getting the reasonable amount they need. I refuse to be selfish.

My friend C.W. Mundy sent this to me today, and it really says it all, whether or not you consider yourself a spiritual or religious person. The message is powerful:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope: where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

“Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”
— St. Francis of Assisi

What to Do When You’re Down

As a result of this virus I’ve caught myself “down” and “worried” a couple of times, but then I remind myself that these feelings can only make everything worse. In the past I’ve discussed the critical role attitude plays and how science has confirmed that attitude impacts your cells. So when you slip into those moments of angst, no matter what’s happening, just remember you’ve had difficult moments in the past and you will get through this. No matter what happens.

Unknown Future

I don’t want to make light of this event. It’s difficult for all of us. I’ve had to cancel a business event we had planned for next week, which hurts my business financially. And, because most of my business is based on events and travel, I have no idea what my future looks like. But fear, panic, and stress won’t allow me to make clear decisions, so I’m working hard to avoid stress. I highly recommend you avoid it too. Sometimes we have to accept that things are out of our control.

Don’t Be Controlled

Remember that you have a choice about how you react or respond. The news media loves us in a panic so we’ll “tune in” every other moment to feed our fear. It’s great for their ratings and advertising incomes. Sadly, it’s not great for us. Though some will argue we need to be informed and take notice (true), we can do that without the drama and panic. Keep those stress levels under control. Why die of a heart attack or stroke while you’re stressing about how not to die from coronavirus?

Let’s all make the best out of a bad situation. Seek out the silver linings, and have confidence that you are doing all you can do to prevent exposure or infecting others. I’ll not go into the science because you can read it in a thousand places. 

Oh, and one more thing. 

Say It Now

I was due to be in China this week (I just returned from Russia last week), and one of the watercolor masters I was going to meet with has passed away from the virus. There is a strong chance that you’ll know people who will also pass away, so there is no better time than now to reinforce your love for those in your life. Hope for the best, but don’t look back wishing you had done more, or said what needed to be said.

Feeding Panic

People will tell you the sky is falling, the world is ending, the economy is crashing — and the signs we’re seeing would lead anyone to believe it. Don’t take the bait. Don’t feed the panic machine. Remember to use calm, sound judgment, and clear thought. This will allow you to deal with anything.

Be There for Them

And don’t forget that this may be harder on others than it is on you. School closings mean moms or dads who work in hospitals won’t be able to work. Hospital workers in Italy are exhausted after weeks of going without sleep in order to save lives. Tens of thousands of jobs are being lost overnight because events or flights are cancelled. It’s not all about me, it’s not all about you. It’s about our community, our friends, our country, our world. We’re all in this together. People need you to listen, to console, to understand, and to love.

We are defined by moments like this, both as individuals and as nations. Who do you choose to be?


Eric Rhoads

PS: Sunday Coffee is read by over a quarter million people every week because you have generously shared it with people you love. I want to thank you. When we’re in a media-centered world that drives fear, my goal is to be a contrarian, to let others know there is another way, a reasonable, responsible response to life.