My Pandemic Journal is Changing the Way I See the World
I’ve found myself journaling a lot more in the weeks since the pandemic began. Part of it has been to find a way to reflect on the frustrations and anxieties about the uncertain future we face, as well as the sadness of the reality of this disease that is disrupting so many lives. At the same time, my journaling has taken on new dimensions — it has helped me to see that there are many occasions for joy in day-to-day life. These are always important to take note of, but this seems especially true now.
So I’ve kept with it — I spend 15 minutes at the end of the day in a quiet spot and just write in my journal. I note things I observed and experienced, and I’m finding that this practice is then changing the way I go through my day. I’m more observant when I journal — I linger over experiences and pay more attention.
I’ve organized my journal entries around three different categories: moments of goodness, beauty, and truth that I’ve experienced that day. Noticing these experiences adds a positive dimension to my journaling, and it also keeps my spirits in check. Finding bright spots helps me not get overwhelmed by the news I consume, and I can keep track of the little parts of my day I don’t want to lose sight of. Over time, I’ve noticed that goodness, beauty, and truth seem to appear in consistent forms. Here’s how these categories have begun to take shape for me.
Goodness: letting delight linger
Goodness has been appearing mostly in interactions with loved ones, both in person and through the medium of technology. In person moments arrive when we show mercy and patience with each other as we all try to discern the future. Over technology, I’ve glimpsed goodness in playing games while video conferencing with groups of people I haven’t been able to visit in years.
It has also looked like more sending and receiving of letters. Yes, letters! The shot of excitement when a letter arrives has been a joy lately and it’s been fun to share that joy by sending them to others. It doesn’t have to be something big, but even a few sentences scratched on a piece of folded construction paper does the trick quite well. Doing this lets friends and family know they are missed and loved. It has been a refreshing part of my day to do this, as it also helps me feel connected to the people I care about.
Journaling about experiences of goodness has helped me realize how grateful I am for the people in my life. It has also made me realize that there are so many moments every day that I could pay more attention to. Extra efforts to make longer eye contact, doing something extra or unexpected around the house, and being more present to the people I am with has enriched my relationships. This kind of attentiveness is good to do all the time, but it has been particularly fruitful during the pandemic, as it adds dimensions of delight to the day. Journaling about these occasions has been an opportunity to relive the joy of those moments and let its goodness marinate in my memory.
Beauty: catching glimpses of the subtle
Beauty has been appearing mostly in the things I’ve always had in my life, but was either too busy to notice or had forgotten about. As springtime arrives, this has been a rich category to use to capture observations in my journaling. The lilac bushes we planted last spring are just beginning to bud, and the mere anticipation of their sweet aroma has been exciting. And I forgot that tulips come up in that one corner of the yard.
Beauty appears in all seasons at all times of the year: the snow capped mountains of winter, the babbling brooks of springtime, the fresh green grasses of the summer plains, and the fire-colored leaves of fall each witness to nature’s splendor.
I’ve also begun noticing details in art, literature, and craft that I never noticed before. Allowing my mind to wander more around these things has been generative for journaling. Letting our capacity for wonder take the lead has had me asking why an artist painted the landscape in just that way, why an author arranged her words in just this way, and why a craftsman created something with that particular design or curvature.
Journaling about beauty has focused my attention on the small and ever-present details of life that I often take for granted: the world around us that is filled with the cycles of nature, and the effects of thoughtful people making well-considered choices. When I catch a glimpse of a harmonious combination of colors, or the faint aroma of an oven-baked pastry, it has been a joy to return to these at the end of the day when I finally sit down to journal.
Truth: discerning well in difficulty
If I’m being honest, truth can be hard to feel good about sometimes, especially lately. Truth includes the harsh realities of the pandemic — millions of people are suffering directly from the virus, and billions of people are experiencing indirect consequences. This sort of truth keeps my mind connected to the suffering that I have not personally experienced directly, but which I may someday. Truth keeps me grounded, but it also does something else. Truth gives me hope.
The truth that really bright people around the world are working on solutions to the pandemic means that it is reasonable to hope that better days are ahead of us. In the long run, when truth has its way and isn’t interfered with, we are all the better for it. When we are clear about the blunt and naked truths about the pandemic, it helps us make clear-eyed decisions. We then have the freedom to discern well, which involves being honest about what we need, and how we can be of service to others.
Journaling about the truth of our situation isn’t always easy, but it is really helpful. It helps me think more clearly so that I can make decisions about the future. In the midst of the chaos imposed upon us by the pandemic, clear thinking is an effective antidote.
Writing to whom? (An unexpected wrinkle)
I’ve journaled at various points in the past, but the practice would come and go as seasons of life changed. The new discipline of attending to moments of goodness, beauty, and truth throughout the day — and then journaling about them before bed — has enriched not just my journaling, but my experience of the day in general.
Starting an additional practice has also enriched my journaling. In the past, I’ve simply written about things or narrated events without writing to anyone. Lately, since the pandemic started, I’ve been writing specifically to God. This has transformed my journaling from a sterile record of my observations to a letter of communication to a Person. This communication opens further avenues to see how faith crops up in the little and unexpected movements of goodness, beauty, and truth that is all around me.
Even when the pandemic is over, whenever that day comes, this is a practice I’ll continue.