FEATURE — A friend of mine landed in the ER last week with shortness of breath and chest pains. She thought she was having a heart attack. Or yet another miserable outcropping of her 13-week battle with COVID-19.
It (COVID) had already caused trouble in her sternum, liver and pancreas.
But it wasn’t a heart attack. It wasn’t even COVID. Instead, the doctor gave her a diagnosis that surprised her: She was having a panic attack.
Even more surprising was his treatment recommendation: Turn of the news for a while.
The doctor explained that he’d seen a spike in panic attacks of late and had resorted to this unusual advice because, well, it seemed to be the common thread. And, it also seemed to work.
So, when my sister called me on Thursday morning to relate her own panic attack-like experience from the night before, I shared the ER doc’s advice with her. And it resonated. With her and with me.
Lukas Nelson, son of the legend Willie Nelson, has been telling people the same thing for at least a year. Back in 2019, he released a song called “Turn off the News (and Build a Garden).”
“Turn off the news and build a garden,” Nelson sings. “Just my neighborhood and me. We might feel a bit less hardened. We might feel a bit more free. Turn off the news and raise your kids. Give them something to believe in. Teach them how to be good people. Give them hope they can see. Hope they can see. Turn off the news and build a garden with me.”
Earlier this week, my husband insisted that our family watch a new documentary on Netflix called “My Octopus Teacher.”
It is an hour and 20-minute deep dive into the world of an octopus who lives in a small kelp forest off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. Almost more importantly, it’s a deep dive into the unconventional friendship that develops between the octopus and her film documenter, a man named Craig Foster.
Craig follows the octopus for almost a year. He follows her. He films her. He intimately observes her in every condition. How she moves, how she learns, how she hunts and plays and evades predators. And also, how she doesn’t.
It is breathtaking and inspiring and heartbreaking.
And over the course of hundreds of hours over hundreds of days underwater, the two develop a friendship. A friendship that the audience gets to witness. And a friendship that eventually transforms Craig.
Before the octopus, Craig was rudderless and miserable. He was burnt out as a man, a husband, a father and a filmmaker. In a desperate move, he turned to what he’d known and loved as a child – free diving in the ocean – as a way to try to find himself again. And to find his way back to the people and the world around him.
“A lot of people say an octopus is like an alien,” Craig says in the film. “But the strange thing is as you get closer to them you realize that we’re very similar in a lot of ways.”
As the credits rolled and I wiped the embarrassing number of tears from my cheeks, I thought again about my friend’s panic attack, the ER doctor’s advice and Lukas Nelson’s song.
Not all of us have an ocean at our fingertips or an octopus to commune with. But we certainly can turn off the news and build a garden. We can raise our kids, look for the marvels in our backyards and neighborhoods, and build connections with people and other living things, like us and otherwise.
And like Lukas says, “We might feel a bit less hardened. We might feel a bit more free.”
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