Living in These Times

Rosana Francescato
8 min readMay 9, 2023

Were we made for them?

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I know, I know. That quote has been bandied about a lot in the past few years. And not all of us are “Ringers”; as much as I loved reading The Lord of the Rings when I was eleven, I rarely think about the books. Still, this quote so perfectly fits what many of us are feeling these days that I’m drawn to it again and again.

For us Flower Children, life feels hard right now. Like Boomers, we grew up in a time of unusual prosperity — at least, for those of us who were white, privileged, and lived in certain locations. Growing up, I was aware, in an abstract way, of how lucky I was. I had a general sense that it was better to live in modern times, especially for women, than in the past. (That was before I learned about previous times and cultures that had more freedom, equality, and community than most of us dream of now, but that’s for another post.)

But it wasn’t until recent years that I realized how atypical and secure those times were, and how fragile “progress” was. You know what I’m talking about.

This woman at a 2016 demonstration in Poland went viral; her message has been repeated often.

Three truths

1. Many of us have been spoiled. We’ve become soft and are not well equipped to handle adversity. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want adversity, and I’m grateful for the ease I’ve experienced throughout much of my life. But growing up with that ease did not prepare me for life in the 2020s.

2. Hard times are nothing new. Throughout human history, countless people have suffered through much harder experiences than anything I’m going through (and millions are suffering more now). Some towns lost over 50% of their population during the Black Death, leading some to think the world would end. It didn’t. During World War II, large groups of people endured unimaginable hardships. The world still continued.

3. We’re living in unprecedented times. We’re bombarded daily with multiple threats of an ongoing global pandemic, the rise of fascism, and rapidly worsening climate change. Oceans rise, empires fall, the pendulum swings between conservative and progressive governments — and whatever we do, the Earth will continue in some form. But while fascism can be defeated (that may even be the likely outcome), victory may take many years and cost many lives. While the current plague may abate someday, some think it could get much worse before that happens, leaving mass debilitation in its wake and upending our healthcare and economic systems. And climate change plus mass extinctions pose an existential threat to life on Earth the likes of which we’ve never seen before. You might be tired of the word “unprecedented,” but there’s a reason it’s being repeated so often.

It is also true … As our social lives were curtailed during the pandemic, comparisons came to mind of Anne Frank hiding in an attic for years. Surely, if she could endure that, we shouldn’t complain about not being able to go to parties. But so many, like Anne, didn’t make it through those times unscathed, even if they survived. A friend told me that her father survived the Holocaust only to have nightmares about it every night for the rest of his life. While adversity can strengthen us, it’s simply not always true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Life is much more nuanced than that.

What do we do with all this?

Spoiler alert: I don’t have a recipe for coping with these overwhelming realities. But here and there, I find a few nuggets that keep me going.

It’s a work in progress. I alternate between denial and despair, punctuated by moments of peace and joy. I try to take concrete actions to make a positive difference. I find solace, and even happiness, where I can.

It can feel odd going about daily life while the world seems to be falling apart. But what else can we do? Like anyone who’s paying attention, I live with the constant dissonance expressed so well in this tweet:

Faced with this reality, what do we do?

A quick Google search will yield a long string of self-care and happiness tips, like the ones in this list I randomly came across. To be fair, many of the tips are decent. Meditate. Create a habit of gratitude. Take a break from social media and take a walk in nature.

Sure, sure. But all that self-care can start to feel tiring, time-consuming, overwhelming — and woefully inadequate to meet the heaviness of these times.

Not that anything is adequate. All we can do is find our best way forward.

Balms for these times

While I don’t have the answers, I offer a few humble suggestions. My list is in no way meant to be exhaustive, but it’s a good start at describing what I find helpful.

1. Prioritize friends and family

What can I say about this one? Just do it! It’s worth it. We’re social creatures, and what matters is our connections to others. The pandemic has weakened some of these while strengthening others; for me, Zoom has kept me more in touch than ever with dear old friends who are physically distant. Nurture those connections. That includes our furry family members — Fiona and Sparky, shown above, have been key to maintaining sanity at our house.

2. Take action

There are so many things we can do to improve the world, or our little corner of it. It’s good to feel like you’re doing SOMETHING. Just a few actions out of so many you can take:

3. Do what you love

It’s not all about saving the world — or even surviving. As poet Audre Lorde reminds us, we were never meant to survive. Instead, aim for thriving while you’re around. To thrive, it’s essential to take some time for what you love.

This can be a tough one. We may not have the time or energy to focus on what we love. Some people don’t even know what that would be. (If you’re one of those, I highly recommend reading the work of inspirational career counselor Barbara Sher.)

If you’re lucky enough to know what inspires you and to have even a small amount of time to do it, it’s the bomb. I’m doing it right now. Writing is my thing. I’ve been very lucky in recent years to find (climate-related) work that pays me for writing, among other tasks. And I’m lucky now to have the time to write this newsletter. My weekly deadline keeps me going!

That doesn’t mean I do it all. My other loves, hiking and dancing, have taken a backseat lately. Go easy on yourself, and do what you can. That brings me to the next tip.

4. Get some R&R

In recent years, I’ve noticed a proliferation of articles bemoaning the fact that Americans don’t get enough sleep. You could call it an epidemic! Have you heard people say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”? They’ll be dead sooner than they think if they keep telling me that! Sleep is non-negotiable; ask Arianna Huffington.

Rest, of course, is not just about sleep. Taking time out, even if it’s to watch Netflix, is necessary for a balanced life. We all need to let go, recharge, and even escape sometimes.

And yes, do the stuff on the lists — if you can! Meditate. Get out in nature. Exercise. But not at the expense of rest. Don’t try to do it all.

5. Feel the feelings

Living through these times can feel like having constant PMS. If the slightest thing makes you cry, let yourself cry. This doesn’t mean wallowing in sadness, but the best way through emotions is through them, not around them. I have to keep reminding myself of this one.

Overwhelmed by your feelings? Join a Climate Emotions Conversation. Margaret Klein Salomon, a clinical psychologist turned climate activist, conceived of these small group sharing and listening sessions to help people deal with their emotions about the climate emergency. Full disclosure: I haven’t tried these yet.

6. Find the magic in life

Don’t let this tip’s position in the list fool you. It may be the most important of them all — encompassing, enveloping, and embracing the others, infusing them with meaning.

Joseph Campbell believed that mythology, or religion, has four functions — the first being the mystical function, which serves to inspire awe. “Awe,” he said, “is what moves us forward. We live in the stars, and we are finally moved by awe to our greatest adventures.”

This function is also about feeling our connection to all beings and to something larger than us, however we think of that.

How do we elicit awe and connection? Approaches are very individual; here are some of mine.

  • Meditate, listen to music, take in some art, dance — yes, do the things on those lists! At least, whichever ones appeal to you. For me, spending time in nature is key. I know one thing: You won’t find the magic on Twitter. Although that’s where I found the little gem above, which just goes to show that magic is everywhere. Still, take breaks from Twitter.
  • Take a psychedelic journey — in an intentional, supervised setting. Psychedelics aren’t for everyone, and they are contraindicated for some people (such as anyone taking SSRIs), but I included them on this list because I find them one of the most powerful medicines for these or any times. See James Fadiman’s The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guidefor guidance on safe and successful experiences. If you are drawn to try psychedelics, you may not need to do them often; even the memory of the connection and magic I’ve felt on these journeys has helped to keep me going during the pandemic.
  • Be guided by love and by possibility, rather than hope, as climate leader Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson suggests. What does this mean? A good start is to focus on our love for what it is we want to save. By asking the question, “What if we get this right?” we can focus on possibility — and even learn to love the future. (Thanks to Erica Berry for this inspiration.)
  • Listen to the poets. Rumi, Hafiz (or Daniel Ladinsky), Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, environmentalist Ayisha Siddiqa, and Amanda Gorman are wonderful guides. There are so many others. Emily Dickinson even wrote about possibility!

Maybe everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed & strange.
But only when everything hurts
May everything change. — Amanda Gorman

Originally published at https://flowerchild.substack.com.

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Rosana Francescato

Clean energy analyst, advocate, communicator spreading the good solar word