Maria Shriver on spreading hope from quarantine: 'We all have work to do'

"We are all — each and every one of us — a diamond, a crystal, a ray of sunshine in another person’s life."
Image: Today - Season 68
Patrick Schwarzenegger and mother Maria Shriver embrace during his appearance on TODAY on December 12, 2019.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

The full version of this essay originally appeared in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper newsletter. Subscribe today to receive it in your inbox every week.

Over the past few days, I’ve tried to stick to my morning routine: Prayer before my feet hit the floor, coffee, meditation, silence and then exercise. What comes next has been, let’s say, more fluid.

With nowhere to go, I started practicing as if I had to go to work. I got dressed. I got ready. I wrote and practiced “calm, heart-based leadership” for my Sunday Paper team and my Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement crew, both who are also at home trying to stay calm and carry on. I also practiced it for my kids, who have seemed extremely concerned about me, reminding me hourly that I’m in the “vulnerable population“ and that I dare not go out lest I end up in the hospital. In fact my son, Patrick, has moved in with me to make sure I'm not alone. (How touching is that!)

Earlier in the week, NBC called to tell me that a producer I’d worked with last week in New York had tested positive for COVID-19 and that I should stay home out of an abundance of caution. Like most of us, I’m not used to being told to stop, stay home and isolate. And I’m really not used to thinking of myself as “vulnerable.”

Vulnerable doesn’t fit the picture I have of myself. In so many ways, I see myself as a woman in her prime. My kids are grown. They are good, kind, loving human beings and they are my greatest blessing and achievement. Their independence has brought me to this space of feeling like I’m ready to embark on my next great adventure. Yet, here we all sit frozen in place.

Millions are worried their life’s work could go down the drain, along with their life savings and their dreams of retirement or that next adventure. My friend Elizabeth, who owns two housewares stores, employs 10 people and is the primary breadwinner for her family, said that this is every entrepreneur’s worst nightmare and she's terrified. She's still taking online orders.

So, too, said my friend Ari, who runs the legendary Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my son is at school. (You can still order takeout from him or order online.) So, too, said my friend Vito, who had to close his hair salon that he worked his whole life to build. So, too, said every nonprofit leader I spoke to this week. And the list goes on and on.

Life as it was is no longer. This is our new reality, so adapting and pivoting is the order of the day. Trying to be useful is essential. As my friend Jon Bon Jovi said this week, if you can’t do what you do, do what you can. I love that.

So, the goal of my days has become trying to reach out to others. That has become my daily “to-do” and my daily joy. I make dates for FaceTime and cocktails on my porch, even if it’s just iced tea and I’m a party of one. I started my “Home Together” series on Instagram to bring inspiration and hope and help pass the time. I reached out to the Governor of my state and offered my time, creativity and ingenuity.

I reached out to my pastor to check in and check on him. I tried to assure those who work with me and depend on me that they are OK, while also encouraging them to get creative, innovative and realize there is no longer a box to think outside of because, the truth is, we are all outside the box.

We are all in uncharted territory. I knew this to be true as I sat Thursday evening watching the Governor of California issue a historic “stay at home order” for the entire state for at least one month. As I watched the press conference, I felt the seriousness of the moment. The projected statistics were sobering and, as I listened, I could feel the anxiety and the fear rising up in me. I sat for a moment on my couch unsure of what to do or what to think.

Then I closed my eyes to remember that very morning, when I opened my eyes after my meditation and the sun was breaking through the trees. It was actually beautiful. It appeared like a crystal shooting rays through branches. A thought popped into my mind: We are all — each and every one of us — a diamond, a crystal, a ray of sunshine in another person’s life. We are each desperately needed at this moment. Our light is needed. Our hope is needed. Our joy will make someone’s day. We’ve got to know that.

While our doctors and nurses are on the frontlines in our hospitals, and while our government leaders work around the clock to manage the situation, I take a deep breath and express my gratitude to them. And to all the military members who have stepped up, to all the retired doctors who have shown up and to all the parents who are now trying to become teachers for their kids. Not to mention, the reporters on the frontlines working everyday to bring us the facts.

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the caregivers still showing up for work, along with those working in our supermarkets and our pharmacies who are stepping up to help their fellow human beings. Talk about moving humanity forward.

We are all on the frontlines, as my actions affect you and yours affect me. We are all the helpers, the healers, the inspirers, the listeners and the cultivators of hope. We are the ones that keep this adventure, for lack of a better word, going.

We all have work to do. We have to follow the rules. We have to pick up the phones and check in on those who live alone and those who feel alone, as I did this week with my two 90 year-old neighbors, who both assured me we're all going to be just fine.

We have to use our voices to tell our friends what we need. Voicing our needs, our fears and our anxieties is OK. It makes us human. As my brother Timothy said this week, if you’re feeling anxious, try to focus on the hour in front of you. And if that’s too much, then just try the next 10 minutes. Take this one moment at a time.

We must also see ourselves, in a way, as first responders. We are responding to what life has thrown our way. And the way we respond can change a life, save a life or reassure a life.

So, let’s get dressed. We all have a job to do. It may not be the one you signed up for, but you are equipped for it. You have the qualifications to do it well. Pick up the phone. Answer the text. Listen. Respond.

Imagine yourself not as vulnerable or scared, but as indispensable. Because you are. We are all members of the Citizens’ Brigade. There is a lot of work to be done, and my friends, it has just begun.

This essay has been edited and condensed.