The Virus is Coming

Ebola virus

Photo Credit: jungmoon via Compfight cc

The virus is coming.

Actually, it’s probably not coming. But if it was, what would you do with your dwindling days?

And I don’t mean what would your animal self do. I don’t mean the things you’d do to survive. I don’t mean the looting and the hiding and the procreating. I’m not wondering what your fear would tell you to do; I’m wondering what your soul would tell you to do?

I’m wondering: who would you call?

I’m wondering: if you had one last chance, what new way would you find to tell the ones you love about the depth of that love?

I’m wondering what you would pay attention to. What would you soak up and drink in like it might be your last taste? I’m wondering if you’d pay attention to the glint of sun off your child’s eyelashes. I’m wondering if you’d feel the skin of your lover—not just touch it, but feel it. I’m wondering if the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of late-summer cicadas winding up and winding down would make you ache with gratitude. I’m wondering if every ripple on a pond would be cause for celebration. I’m wondering if the birds in the trees would sound like a choir and the people in front of us would look like gods.

I’m wondering if we would wake up.

Because I’m standing in line at a Starbucks on the morning CNN has announced the United States is bringing Ebola to America for the first time. I’m watching the baristas scuttle around and I’m watching the customers in line—empty-faced and device-dazed. I’m watching my distracted-frantic life pass before my eyes, and I’m realizing: no amount of caffeine can awaken humanity from the stupor it’s chosen.

I’m watching us all, and I’m thinking about my puppy in the backyard. I’m thinking of how he hurls himself out the door to chase squirrels for hours. He chases them like the world depends upon it. I’m thinking I’ve lived a lot like my dog, chasing the squirrels of protection and competition and achievement and perfection, as if they were the purpose and the point of my days.

I’m wondering if we would stop chasing squirrels.

I’m standing in a Starbucks on a Friday morning and I’m thinking about the graveyard I was standing in on a Friday morning exactly one week ago:

I’m standing at the graveside memorial service of my last grandparent—my paternal grandmother. She has been returned to ashes and what is left of her sits in an urn before us and in the moments before she is lowered into the ground a choir behind us sings “Hallelujah” as if they will never sing it again. The sky is gray with indifference but an ancient maple towering above us is caught in the throes of a rushing wind and it joins the chorus and its roaring leaves sing life into this moment of death, and the moment is so sacred I can barely stand the weight of it—it’s sacred not because of the death but because of the one-chance life that gave birth to the death.

And the maple seems to roar, “What will you do with your one life?”

The maple cries, “Will you live it awake, or will you chase your squirrels?”

As she’s lowered downward I look upward at the undulating tree and, in this moment, her death is a hallowed reminder of life. In this crossroads of life and death, the joy and the sorrow feel inseparable.

Joy and sorrow are, in fact, present and inseparable in every moment.

Standing in a graveyard and standing in a Starbucks, I want to wake up to that reality. I’m wondering if we all might wake up and look at each other and look at life and feel the aching depths of it and the joyous heights of it. And I’m wondering if we all might just settle into the enough-ness of that.

The barista hands me my coffee and, without taking a sip, I feel like I’m finally awake and I tell him thank you, and I look him in the eye. His gaze wavers because we’re all rusty at eye contact, aren’t we?

The virus probably isn’t coming.

It probably won’t kill us.

But, if we allow it, the virus might just save us.

One waking moment at a time.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • me

    The way I feel and the sadness I have for my little one.I believe if the virus is coming I would stay in its passed because maybe it will help me join my little one.but before then I would make sure I do what I can in my power to make sure my other children and my family was safe first.maybe before it hit me I will study and give all my ideas for a cure maybe it will save some people-

    • Lynda Beth Unkeless


      What would I do? Thank you for writing!

      I will ask myself that question all day today.

      Here is what I will keep doing.

      Seeing and appreciating the beauty and the light around me.
      Take photos of what beauty I see and keep posting on Facebook to share.
      Working to help the mentally ill people I case manage at my job.
      Respect and admire my fellow social workers at our government jobs.
      Never take for granted for one moment all the beauty and wonder of where I live (the San Francisco Bay Area)!
      Appreciate the good health and good friends I have.
      Practice yoga.
      Love life.
      Love life.
      Love Life in its imperfect details
      Live and love life in each and every moment!
      Don’t hold your breath!

      • drkellyflanagan

        Lynda, this is fantastic. Keep creating beauty and enjoying the beauty around you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      The idea of contributing to the cause that is searching for a cure is a noble one and a lovely way to spend your days. And, of course, protecting the ones you love.

  • ALEJANDR1971

    What would I do?
    Call my cousin,with whom I had a discussion many years ago by foolish and never spoke again.
    We were raised together,almost like sisters.I still call on her birthday,on the birthday of her husband and their children,
    Always get my messages on the answering machine.
    She doesn’t want to attend my calls
    But if it were the latest in my life which would try

    • ALEJANDR1971

      From the scientific ebola could not thrive outside of certain areas.
      Requires certain conditions to expand certain types of wild animals and certain weather conditions If necessary to cross the ocean ,the virus would be isolated it immediately.
      The mode of transmission is through human contact with fluids from infected wild animals.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes, reconciliation. Alejandr, I wish I had put that in the post. : )

  • Tonya Taylor Briggs

    Dr. Flanagan, I appreciate your post this morning and I certainly understand the point you are making, however, I have to argue we are not built or equipped to live every single day in that hyper-awake status. I am a believer in moments. I have a man in my life and two children that help me live that way…aware, awake, appreciative, but I slip into routine, struggle, and self-absorption every day like everyone else. I believe it is my desire to live by the moments and to not miss the moments that makes me a little more “awake” and a little more in touch with the magic all around than perhaps the Starbucks barrista in front of me. The ability to feel deeper and connect more with the magic of the world, like it is our last days on earth is like the science that tells us we only use 10% of our brain…it seems we are just not equipped to run on that rich of fuel.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Tonya, this is a really thoughtful comment and I’ve been mulling it over. First of all, I love the idea of looking for moments. I always say my wife is good at creating memorable moments, as well. Second, I wonder if what you are reacting to is the euphoric experience of mindfulness that I portray in the post. And about that, I think you’re right on. It’s like how we can’t live forever in the rapture of early romance. Just as love eventually has to give away to something more subtle and sedated (lest we never get anything else done), so does mindfulness and gratitude give way from euphoria to peacefulness. Maybe it’s like being hyper-awake, but without the hyper feeling? Just thinking out loud right now, what do others think? At any rate, thanks for such a thought-provoking addition, Tonya!

      • Tonya Taylor Briggs

        Well, I say this, as a lover of the written word, you managed to take “floaters” I had in my head and put concise words to them and bring them life. You are right…just as infatuation gives way to deep, patient love, and hot passions give way to knowing intimacy, the hyper awareness, or euphoria, we might think we need to feel to really alive, gives way to peacefulness. We see, hear, and feel things like never before, not because we are “hyper” awake, but because we have managed to get out of our own way!

        • drkellyflanagan

          And you have refined it even further. Well said, Tonya!

  • Carolyn

    I try to live most of my life in gratitude and as awake as I can be(especially after almost dying from a post-op infection 3 years ago).This post moved me to tears.Your writing simply blows me away!
    Even if the virus were not coming, we all have infinite moments on the Earth, and are all dying(albeit slowly).I have a goal of spending less time on the internet, as a way to truly embrace this one life that I have.That said, I am going out to enjoy the day, with my puppy.I hope that you have a wonderful day!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Carolyn. I hope you enjoyed your day with your puppy! Chasing squirrels?

  • Joanie

    Powerful. Keep your articles coming, please.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Will do, Joanie, thank you for reading!

  • SY

    Dr Flanagan, you are such a wise man. There aren’t many people understand what you just wrote here. To fully understand it, ones must have been experienced some sort of pain in their lives, or experienced death and near death. Also many someone like you, whom talk and listen to people and see their tears everyday. Thank you so much for all of your works to awake us, Human beings. Please keep up your work. We need this. Have a blessed day.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, SY, blessings to you, as well, in the joy and in the pain.

  • AZ Girl

    I loved your post and I admit it made me cry. But I believe we have chosen to come here, and living and dying is part of the mysterious cycle on this planet. But we are eternal beings and this is just a one act play. We all mean something, whether we are “awake” or not. I will not assume that someone is not awake because he is in Starbucks staring at his computer. I am amazed at the beauty I see every day, but would someone know that about me, if they passed me in the aisle of a grocery store? I doubt it. Have a blessed day!

    • drkellyflanagan

      AZ Girl, thank you for this. I certainly wouldn’t want this to be interpreted as shaming those who are not “awake” or suggesting that we can know who is and who is not just going through the motions. Best probably to focus on our own awakening and leave the awakening of others to them!

  • keenasira

    Spot on, Dr. Flanagan. Spot on. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ebola or innocent kids (and thereby their families) being blown up in Palestine, or it’s the very war of arguments we have at home with our kids, or our spouse…. I wake up everyday repeating this mantra of what you wrote…”What can I do today to wake-up, live and love….?” I follow that with, “Do no harm….” So, thank you again, Sir, for reaffirming that we are all on this journey to heal ourselves and each other…

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for this. And you’re right, the news headlines suggest there are all sorts of cues for us to wake up right now. Wake-up, live, and love. I may steal that mantra. : )

      • keenasira

        Ha. Ha. I think Bob Marley wrote the lyrics “Wake Up and Live” right after he heard the Buddha say it! You are welcome to use the mantra because I stole it from a friend too! What are friends for ? 😉

        • drkellyflanagan

          Richard Rohr says all wisdom is borrowed. Truth is, all wisdom is really like a game of “Telephone.” : )

  • Dave Bacher

    “It is better to go to a funeral than a wedding” – Ecclesiastes – That’s a strange statement but it’s true. That thought, or urge to pull out of this cycle of chasing squirrels is a gift of grace that’s always there when were faced with the reality of our own need. Sorrow is good in a “dangerous” sort of way. Thanks for taking me there with your words today.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for your words: “Sorrow is good in a ‘dangerous’ sort of way.” Reminds me of the description of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

  • I judge that the virus is already here. The virus infects our brains so we believe that we all need to be stars, drive fancy cars and work four (4) hour weeks. The virus keeps us so busy that we ignore that call from a friend, because we just have so much to do. Yet we plop ourselves down in front of our big screen TV’s for 14 hours a week to watch things on UFO’s or a Haunting, or some mindless reality show which only increases our confusion and doubt and further expands the efficacy of the virus. IMHO, the only cure for the virus is truth. Trouble is, truth is a scarcely uttered commodity. There are however people and places where it can be experienced, as in your writings Kelly. Thank you for your passion.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Anthony, thank you for this. It was interesting to go through my day today, a day where this post went live, and to catch myself over and over again giving into the virus that is, as you say, already here. It’s a good reminder that we never arrive, but we can certainly be aware when we step off the path.

      • Awareness. Yes, a key element of living awake. On another note, what’s equally as awesome as your writing, is that you can still take the time to reply to your audience’s comments. I’m counting myself fortunate to be among those who will experience that, because I see the day where you have so many subscribers, it will be impossible to scale up. : )

        • drkellyflanagan

          Thank you, Anthony; I’m going to stay as engaged as I can as long as I can!

  • Kelly, as always, you touch my heart and soul and bring me to tears. I again needed to hear this. I especially loved your description of “her death is a hallowed reminder of life. In this crossroads of life and
    death, the joy and the sorrow feel inseparable” as I have recently had a great disappointment at work and was feeling really down. Your words again bring me hope that even in the sadness (death of a dream/hope) I can still find joy and something to look forward to even if at this moment “the sky is gray with indifference.” Thank you again and may God continue to bless your work.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Jenny, and I hope you do find joy today and I hope that joy will be multiplied by some kind of redemption of your work troubles.

  • Jennifer Koski

    Thank you Kelly, this is very beautiful. It inspired me to re-read Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot:
    “For most of us, there is only the unattended
    Moment, the moment in and out of time,
    The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
    The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
    Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
    That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
    While the music lasts.”

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jennifer, thank you for this. T.S. Eliot. Absolutely beautiful.

  • Sara

    quite, quite beautiful and profound. I loved the squirrel chasing analogy – and yes, we are waking up, one glimpse of truth and beauty at a time.

    • drkellyflanagan

      One glimpse at a time, indeed, Sara!

  • Wow, Kelly, this was truly one of my favorite posts of all time. Not just of yours, but of the many writers I follow. Thank you for sharing your heart and your humanity with your readers. So often, it seems writers talk to us from a pulpit, as if they’re somehow above us or better than us. Your writing reiterates that you’re one of us, in all our perfectly imperfect glory. Thank you for continually striving to “wake up” and for encouraging us to do the same as we all figure out this new terrain we live in.

    This line: “..the moment is so sacred I can barely stand the weight of it—it’s sacred not because of the death but because of the one-chance life that gave birth to the death.” Stunning sentence and one that will join the ranks among my quote logs.

    Thoughts to you and yours in the wake of your grandmother’s death. Thank you for another wonderful post.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for your condolences, Rochelle. She lived a long life and she departed it in a peaceful way, so, thankfully, the day was mostly a celebratory one, punctuated by moments of sorrow, instead of the other way around.

  • Mike Gates

    “No amount of caffeine can awaken humanity from the stupor its chosen.” Nicely done. Just a fantastic sentence

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Mike.

  • Tania

    such a pleasure to read and remind me of who I was and how those squirrels keep popping up even though I make promises that they should disappear.

    • drkellyflanagan

      As I mentioned to Anthony below, Tania, it happened to me all day today, too. It gives me more patience with my dog. : )

  • Christina Haas

    I set an intention this week to make sure I look into the eyes of every person I interact with each day, but most especially my children. Do you know that is the hardest thing, because we know each other so well and we take each other for granted so much? If our time here in this existence was rapidly dwindling, I would want to make sure I made those moments of connection with my kids and loved ones more than anything else. To be present with them and hold that connection whereever the next plane of existence is. I love how your post this week jives so well with the intention I set just a day or two before. I daresay that was not an accident! Thanks for another great one!

    • drkellyflanagan

      My son was telling me a story tonight and I remembered your comment, Christina, and I focused on looking him in the eye. He was visibly grateful. He just kind of relaxed and got more excited about his story. Thank you for sending me a reminder in return.