I never expected to live during a pandemic. I mean, I’ve read a lot of science fiction stories about pandemics, but I never expected fiction to become reality. Yet here it is. Each day, we see covid-19 infecting more people; each day we hear about mounting deaths; each day our roads are emptier and our store shelves even more empty. We are living through dark and uncertain times.
What surprises me is how so many people have not collapsed in fear but instead have risen out of pandemic fears with greater resilience, compassion and love.
Resilience in Our Community
I work in a senior living community, and in order to keep residents healthy and safe, we’ve asked their families not to visit. Families have creatively improvised to stay connected. Carolyn, one of our residents, had her family gather outside her window, and her grandson serenaded her with a trumpet solo. Families drop off “love” packages daily, which might include cards, home-baked goodies, books or puzzles.
Our healthcare staff feels strained, yes. But instead of irritability or anxiety, I see the opposite. My coworkers are more cheerful. They are going the extra mile. One dining services employee worked overtime to bake cookies for each resident. Many of us have used our computers or personal phones to ensure residents get to see their loved ones, eye to eye.
Surviving Other Disasters
As chaplain, I’ve been making even more visits to ward off loneliness and isolation. While my goal was to help our residents, instead, I’m the one who has benefited. Marge reflected on her experiences during WWII and how they endured a lot of rationing but made it through. Wilma told me about her experience with scarlet fever. Her sister contracted it and had to be quarantined for a time. But her sister got better and came home. Someone else reflected on polio scares.
Because of their experiences during challenging times, older adults often radiate calm acceptance of social distancing and unflagging hope that we will overcome these pandemic times. As a result, I feel more hopeful. How glad I am to be working with older adults who share their experiences and wisdom!
Helen Keller wrote, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” In some strange ways, darkness and disaster give birth to hope. Rebecca Solnit, a writer, has published books chronicling some of our modern disasters and their impact on our communities. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the 1906 and 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, and 9/11. She had lived through the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and noticed how sharing that experience with others connected them in a new way. She also saw amazing acts of compassion and altruism as people bonded together to endure it.
When Rebecca Solnit was interviewed for the On Being project, she said, “There’s a way a disaster throws people into the present and sort of gives them this supersaturated immediacy that also includes a deep sense of connection. It’s as though in some violent gift you’ve been given a kind of spiritual awakening where you’re close to mortality in a way that makes you feel more alive; you’re deeply in the present and can let go of past and future and your personal narrative, in some ways.”
Together, we are living through the coronavirus pandemic. Despite quarantines, isolation, and staying at home, we aren’t alone. Our connection is forged in this disaster. And we realize as never before our togetherness is a spiritual reality that connects us on a deeper level.
I’m looking forward to Easter. One of my favorite ways to celebrate Easter is the sunrise worship service. We got up in the dark and gathered together in the dark. At first, we couldn’t see each other’s faces. But gradually, the darkness diminished, and when the sunrise crested the trees, we sang “Up from the grave he arose.” I always get goosebumps imagining Christ’s resurrection, breaking the oppressive darkness with his glorious light.
Because of the corona virus, we won’t be gathering for worship this Easter. But maybe we can still worship together. Will you get up with me before the sunrise? Get yourself a cup of coffee, put on a coat, and sit on your front steps. And as the night gives way to day, and the sun rises in the distance, let’s say aloud, “Alleluia! Christ is risen.” And know that even though we can’t see or hear each other, our fellow sisters and brothers respond back, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”