One of my spiritual gurus is New York Times columnist and PBS NewsHour Friday commentator David Brooks. Although he represents the Republican-conservative view in his Friday commentary on the PBS NewsHour (Mark Shields speaks for my political side, the Democrats), Brooks often offers up touching insights into what really matters.
In his commentary these past couple of weeks, he acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown our economy into a tailspin, but he is most concerned about Americans´mental health. In his NYT column last week, Brooks asked his readers to share how we are coping with the crisis, comparing it to a wrestling match in which our nervous system’s opponent is stress.
This week, Brooks shares the overwhelming response.
I don’t know what I expected; maybe some jaunty stories about families pulling together in a crisis. What you sent gutted me. There have been over 5,000 replies so far, and while many people are hanging in there, there is also a river of woe running through the world — a significant portion of our friends and neighbors are in agony.David Brooks, NYT 4-9-20
He heard from young people feeling bereft of a future, from widows and widowers feeling bereft of love, and from people with chronic mental health problems that see the invisible enemy just waiting for us to forgo one 20’second hand wash to take us down.
The experts, Brooks tells us, suggest that anything rhythmic can ease your nervous system back into alignment — dancing, yoga, tai chi, Zumba. I’m making face masks for Ray and me out of old pajama bottoms. My handstiching is pretty lame but the therapy is very good.
Just this morning, I found myself doing a very lame kind of merengue on my morning walk. I figure we’re all allowed some acting-out room these days, plus I had Kumba with me.
This four year old black Lab came into our life on February 2, via the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida. and it’s hard to tell if we helped rescue him or if he’s the one doing the saving. Ten weeks in and Kumba’s overwhelmed our hearts. He’s sweet and dear, enjoys going nuts each day for about 5 minutes in the side yard, walks beautifully, and understands us. We’ve broken all the rules – his favorite place is on the couch between us. I go to bed early, and Kumba lets his long body slide onto my side of the couch with his head on Ray’s leg. They are both very content in this position
There is something about petting a dog that fits into what Brooks’ experts advise we seek to reduce our stress. Like Levy the therapy dog, Kumba helps settle us down.
In his recent article in The Palm Beach Post, reporter Sam Howard wrote about an effort that connects shelter dogs with military veterans. He quotes veteran Doug Wonnacott who said he transformed from a happy go lucky guy to someone who can easily hide all emotions, especially anger.
“Delta [his 18 month Lab mix] reacts when you get that anger. He’s trained to interact with you, Hey pet me a little bit. And by the time you’re done petting him you’ve forgotten while you’re angry in the first place. To me, that is huge.”Veteran Doug Wonnacot
The Shelter to Service Dog program is a joint effort by two Jupiter non-profit organizations: the Renewal Coalition, a veterans support group, and Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic and Ranch, whose motto is ¨rescue, rehab, re home.¨
The transformations are incredible. We take dogs that are battered and broken and beaten and turn them into healing agents for veterans.Trainer Summit Earhart
And dog companions improve our physical and mental health, and strengthen our immune system.
I’m reminded that this is a time to practice aggressive friendship with each other.David Brooks, NYT
Call an old friend. Reach out to your aunt. Track down someone you once knew and tell them you still think about them. And when we do come out of this pandemic, let us not go back to the way things were. Let’s go on to the way things can be, conscious of how much we value being connected to each other.
And, maybe, you even adopt a dog.