What's In Your Drawer?

May 28, 2020
by Mark E. Seifarth

Mark Seifarth in front of the Ohio StatehouseAs each of us deals with stay-at-home – virus/illness, loss of job, loss of/no health insurance, working during the virus, death & dying, love/separation/loss, sunshine, outdoors, opening windows, and perhaps deepening love in time of separation – I have been pondering with my spouse (as we were apart for 3 months and together for now) what people reach for in time of trial and what one builds upon.

For me, I reach back to many experiences of challenge, fear, & joy, while trying to be open to new experiences to learn, help others, and ask for help. There are many experiences open for discussion that I draw upon in challenging times. I will cite one or two in just a bit.

As is well known, friends, family, community, church (or any spiritual gathering), neighbors, & others for you, are of immeasurable value in times of need, happiness, stress, joy, and even exhaustion. As I’ve worked on public policy issues for almost 40 years, here’s a few examples that come to mind for of support, knowledge, information:

  • Franklin Roosevelt – Fireside Chats and separately The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself (“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”)
  • Ronald Reagan – Shining City on a Hill – “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” (perhaps inspired from a John Winthrop sermon & the Sermon on the Mount)
  • George H. W. Bush – Thousand Points of Light – “a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” – the thrust to take action through service to the community and our fellow citizens
  • Queen Elizabeth II – April 5, Speech to the United Kingdom on COVID – 19. At the end of the just over 4 minute speech, the Queen recalled her first radio broadcast in 1940, during World War II, when she was 14 years old.
    • “It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made in 1940, helped by my sister. We as children spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones, but now as then, we know deep down that it is the right thing to do. While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavor. Using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal, we will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again. But for now, I send my thanks and warmest good wishes to you all.”
  • And, as I am from Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine’s very frequent Press Conferences joined by Health Director Dr. Amy Acton & Lieutenant Governor John Husted. They are all direct, informative, and supportive. Gov. DeWine tweet 5/19/20 “What we do individually will be what saves Ohioans collectively. Taking the protective actions that we are recommending today will not only help you, but they will help you protect your loved ones, your neighbors, and people you don’t know.” Gov. DeWine has demonstrated honest, calm leadership in a time of great need & Dr. Acton is the model of both an empathetic doctor & top shelf administrator.

With that background, let’s chat about what I reach for from my life thus far for strength & endurance. I realize we each have our own emotional and spiritual wells to drink from and I’m not saying mine with resonate with others. I’m just offering a small window of insight into my journey, times that I recall & channel to help me.

As of late I have been calling it, “What’s in my drawer that I can use.” What can past failures, successes, survivals, joys, and sorrows teach us today to move forward and come through the current challenges. My question to you – What’s in my drawer and what can I add to it?

As many know, I have had many surgical procedures. Allow me to recount some common experiences from three surgeries when I spend up to four months far away from home within the confines of the hospital building. At that time, the hospital only allowed one-half hour of visitation on Tuesday & Thursday evening and one hour on Saturday & Sunday afternoon.

Showing my age, my only technology was a small battery-powered transistor radio with an earpiece for one ear. I had no phone access. Of course this was long before computers, emails, texts & tweets, to name a few. But I received many, many cards, letters, & prayers from church, friends, parents’ friends, and family.

So perhaps I view stay-at-home, isolation, and not getting everything I want immediately, through a different lens. Often I had to think about what was available to me and what I could do with it.

Thinking of what’s available, allow me to relate a true story.

Due to an infection after surgery, I had been on the hospital critical list for 10 days. The breathing device to try to empty my lungs of fluid wasn’t helping. Honestly, things were looking a bit bleak with options running out. In fact, while eating only ice chips, I threw up just as my father was rounding the corner and I drenched his shirt. To this day I still remember my father’s laugh as he said he had just put on a clean shirt.

Not known to me at the time, my parents were chatting about what else they could do. My father went to the hospital gift shop and purchased a bag of balloons, showed them to the doctor and said, “How about if we try this?” The wonderful doctor said sure let’s try it.

As I tried with no success to blow up the balloons (couldn’t even get it to start to get bigger), the pressure and continued trying began to help slowly drain my lungs. My parents’ idea is why I am still here today and not a grave marker with a short number of years. That idea came from my parents’ drawer.

So, let me ask, what’s in your drawer?

Remember the small transistor radio I mentioned. I remember that radio with its round tuning knob on the front, to this day. It kept me connected to the outside world, kept my brain running to both take me away from the hospital for a few minutes and keep me sharp to keep body & brain working together through post-surgery body casts and lots & lots of subsequent physical therapy.

What have you learned that you can use now?

I relate these stories to perhaps remind each of us that we may have a big drawer of possibilities and powers to get through these current times. Just maybe, we should ponder not only the drawer of options and tools we have but also how to add to that drawer.

Who can teach us and who can we teach?

Who can help us and who can we help?

Who can support us and who can we support?

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m really tired and sometimes sad about our current challenges. But I want to learn. I want to grow. I want to say when we get through these tough times – it was very hard, but I quietly did the best I could.

Those who know me, know I can have strong feelings. But now I am learning (adding to my drawer) to be quieter. I am trying not to listen to those who spew anger and yell and try to enrage and/or diminish others – because maybe it does harm. Perhaps it is time to be one of those folks who help, give and quietly ask – what can I do and what will it teach me. And maybe ask for help when I need it, when we need it.

Please let me ask you –

What’s in your drawer to help you get through, help yourself, and help others? What and who can help you fill your drawer with more I need and more help. And how can you help others too – maybe just a telephone call or hello.

When we get through this – and we will get through it – how will you feel you did?

Did you yell and scream or only listen to those who belittle others?

Or did you ask for what you really needed and give what you could to someone else who needed a friend?

Perhaps your drawer will actually grow fuller and have even more in it the next time you need it.

Mark Seifarth is the immediate past Chair of the Ohio DD Council. Zealous in disability advocacy and policy, Mark's resume includes Congressional Liaison for the National Council on Disability, Legislative Liaison for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, Legislative Liaison for the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission (now called Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities). Mark was the 2018 recipient of the Synergy Award and is a state and national speaker on advocacy, leadership, and disability and legislative issues.