Thoughts from a pandemic . . .
I’m old enough to remember when the coronavirus started.
COVID-19 really is stretching on, isn’t it? When it first began I felt the same anxiety many others were feeling, but the shelter-in-place didn’t seem difficult to me. I’m very much an introvert. I am a professional counselor and I love meeting with people, but I also look forward to time alone to recharge. Being stuck at home with my wife and daughter didn’t feel like a problem to me.
With all the extra time we had together we went on more frequent walks, which seemed to please our dogs. And we watched more movies together. I even watched Star Wars. Yes, the original. It took me 43 years to get around to it, but sometimes a fellow just needs a little time. And since I watched Star Wars because my daughter wanted to see it I chose The Last of the Mohicans because I wanted her to see that one. And now we have a running debate about whether or not The Last of the Mohicans is a chick flick, which is what I told her to get her to watch it. I say there’s a hero, he falls in love with a girl, he rescues the girl, and what could be more chick flick than that? She says people don’t get their hearts cut out in a chick flick. A lot of people we’ve talked to seem to be siding with her.
So it was an odd mix of feelings I felt in the beginning. I felt sad reading the increasingly bad news about the spread of the virus and of people dying without their loved ones by their side. I felt afraid of the economic impact on so many people and the suffering it would lead to. Yet I also felt deeply grateful for the increased time with my wife and daughter. But now it seems there is no end in sight. The virus marches on and on. I see my daughter’s sadness at losing all the events she was looking forward to this summer, especially the El Paso mission trip, high school beach camp, and a trip to Disneyland. It doesn’t compare to the suffering of so many others yet it is a significant loss to her.
I felt despair early in the pandemic when I read that many Thais were committing suicide because they had no money and they were hoping their life insurance benefits would give their families money to buy food.
And I wrestle with Dallas Willard’s statement that for those in the Kingdom of God the world is a safe place to be. I think I know what he means, but I am realizing I don’t know God well enough for it to feel deeply true. Safe place? So little feels safe right now.
It is the extremes we’re being asked to live with that are perhaps most difficult for me. There are widely different points of view about how to handle the pandemic, for sure, but what challenges me most are the extremes of feeling two very different things at the same time. I am glad for the increased time with Susanne and Linnea and sad at the loss of events that mean so much; happy to be at home more often, but feeling constricted that we have little choice; happy our spending is down yet sad that so many businesses—and the real people behind them—are hurting.
Even in all of this I have learned a few things. I’ve learned that isolation and solitude feel great until they are forced on me. I’ve learned that Zoom exhaustion is a real thing. I am grateful for the technology that allows me to continue meeting with clients, but it’s just not as good as being in the room together. I’m learning that even though a part of me believes I am okay on my own I desperately need other people. This was pressed home about six weeks into the shelter-in-place when we slipped out of our house under the cover of darkness (well, not quite) and spent the evening with dear friends. Sometimes you don’t know how much you’ve missed something until you get it back again and you feel both the joy of it and the deep ache of what had been lost.
I am seeing that gratitude and lament go together and if I never lament I may have a forced or manufactured gratitude. If I have lament without gratitude it’s living as one without hope, convinced that what I see around me is final reality. And I’m learning yet again that the same God who has offered to be with people down through history in the joys and heartaches and the humdrum details of life is offering to be with me in my own fear and confusion about these difficult times. I am learning that not all questions have answers, but that the Father’s presence with me is more precious and reassuring than answers could ever be.