Permission to Pause

March 18, 2020 //

In the past week, I’ve marveled at how swiftly my non-profit and funder colleagues have adapted to the drastically changed conditions of our lives. Complex, in-person events were seamlessly hosted on virtual platforms in what seemed like a 24-hour pivot. We are all now wizards of Zoom, Blue Jeans, Skype, and other technologies for virtual meetings. Travel was reorganized. Work-from-home-protocols became the norm long before those of us here in the San Francisco Bay Area were advised to shelter in place.

Our sectors have also been swift to call out the globally recognized inadequacy of our government’s responsiveness, and concerns that our mismatched public and private health care infrastructure will buckle under the onset of the virus’ spread. On the advocacy side, many were quick to mobilize for the adoption of better PTO policies, demand widespread public testing and more severe safety protocols, and find ways to compensate hourly workers, contractors, service providers, and those already so vulnerable economically.

As Stacy-Marie Ishmael wrote, “I cannot quite wrap my head around how many thousands of people went into the weekend having a job, and are waking up on Monday without one. All at the same time.”

My colleagues at the Trust Based Philanthropy Project have written eloquently about how funders can meet this moment. They are among many thoughtful examples of servant leadership in our field. I am grateful for their voices and others’.

I am also, frankly, overwhelmed. I have family members – elders – who are currently in critical condition, fighting for their lives. COVID-19 and this administration’s obfuscation and early minimizing of it are pernicious, deadly, and personal to me.

As I look around my now sheltered-in-place life, it seems like we are all on a plane that’s trying to stick an emergency landing in a snowstorm. And many of us are on our laptops trying to move at the same pace and effectiveness as always. Some of us more successfully than others.

I feel inarticulate, clumsy, and heavy-hearted. I don’t know how to even reckon with the nightmare my extended family is experiencing or the bewildered terror of my own immunocompromised, 75-year-old parents who called yesterday. They wanted to see if I could have eggs and rice delivered to their house (8 hours away from mine) because all the grocery store shelves are empty from widespread panic hoarding. I reassured them that stores will remain open through the sheltering in place protocol and that, at some point soon, stores will restock.

As we were chatting, I signed a petition to create an elders-only, early shopping hour in their town. I turned off the facetime, and my brave face with it. I cried for a minute on the steps out front where the baby couldn’t see, and went on to the next thing.

In a different algorithm of my universe, I’m finding a completely different energy.

Many people are speaking to this moment as an opportunity to go deep – to be out in the greens and blues of the natural world, spend time with the closest humans and animals of our packs, write, play, and create, and listen to what the underlying lessons are for us individually and collectively. I need these energies, too.

There is something unprecedented about this time, even after so many moments in the past few years that felt similarly unprecedented. The accumulation of them is fraying our already thin societal skin. We cannot run from the fact that we need a radical reimagining of our democracy, economies, and global society.

I look forward to continued recommendations from so many brilliant social architects for what is next.

But, just for today, I am giving myself, and anyone who might need to hear this, permission to pause.

Pause in whatever way we may not know we need to. Pause for recalibration. Pause for strength. Pause for grief. Pause for reflection. Pause for connection. Pause to breathe. Pause to take in the sky. Pause to giggle with a little one. Pause to listen for creative intelligence about what the next right step might be.

Perhaps we are in the position to loosen expectations of staff, reassure them that they can take a breather, with pay and health care. If so, let’s do that.

In moments of pause, I am oddly hopeful.

I hope this is the time-stopping, world-re-organizing, sobering reality check that we need to build out a social infrastructure that can hold all of us with more girth and power than anything before. There is something profoundly necessary in whatever space we can find between realizing we need to make an emergency landing and hitting the ground running.

I have a deep faith that we will find our feet, but I also nurse a deep hope that, as we reconstruct our new normal, we do so with the souls of our babies and elders and our planet at heart.

Bidding you wellness, a meaningful pause, and enduring love from Oakland, California.


  1. Permission to Pause | Vermont Humanities on March 20, 2020 at 12:03 pm