A friend of mine told me that after weeks of coronavirus stay-at-home orders, she’s finally “come to terms with all the paperwork” in her life.
“I know what I’m keeping, and what I’m throwing away,” she said earnestly.
Another friend has taken up drawing, while my neighbors have been building garden beds. I myself have been washing down plaster walls that I plan to paint as soon as I can excuse myself from a few Zoom meetings.
Of course, such self-improvement efforts, worthy though they may be, cannot balance the overwhelming suffering inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. At this point, more than 2.7 million have been infected; over 192,000 have died. An estimated one third of the world’s population is currently under some form of lockdown to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease.
At a time when we are being driven to our knees in prayer, our houses of worship are closed. Years of social and economic rebuilding lay ahead of us.
Keeping up with the pandemic and its innumerable implications can result in a kind of whiplash. Our eyes, strained by hours of screen time, scan news sites filled with images of horror, heroism, hope and humor. In seconds we’re confronted with everything from the daunting tallies of the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map to memes about stimulus checks.
So how exactly do you process a pandemic?
Are we just in a bad biological spot at the moment, or has God placed his children on the world’s biggest time-out in order to get their attention?
Opinions vary widely, but for all our speculation, we really won’t know what to make of this season until we’ve lived through it.
And yet one woman I recently interviewed gave me a profound way of understanding at this bewildering crisis, even as it unfolds.
Just days earlier, she had battled the coronavirus, while at the same time losing a loved one to the disease — a frontline worker who had diligently supervised the maintenance of a senior residence. He’d taken every precaution possible to avoid the illness, even disinfecting his keys each night.
After one of his colleagues had tested positive, however, he developed a slight cough, and then a fever, and then unbearable chills.
Within hours, he had difficulty breathing and reluctantly went to the nearby emergency room. By the end of the week, he was on a ventilator, with doctors asking the family dreaded questions for which, in their shock and heartache, they had no ready answers.
The woman’s loved one died, alone in his hospital room, while she lay in her own bed at home, weakened by violent coughing that led to a bruised rib. There were no goodbyes; the funeral won’t be held until the family can gather after public health restrictions are lifted.
But she told me that, strange as it may sound to the ears of the world, she now thanks God every day for her “coronavirus journey,” throughout which she clung to the words of Psalm 91: “You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High … Say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust’” (Ps 91:1,2).
Huddled in her room, sick and sorrowful, she remembered where she truly was: under the “shelter … (of) his pinions, and under his wings” (Ps 91:4).
And whether you’re in a period of pandemic or prosperity, that is the only place to be.
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