COVID-19: Grief and Hope

(I'm not a medical expert and I'm not writing with any claim to extraordinary perspective on the unfolding situation; I'm guessing that in a few months -- or weeks -- I'll look back and wonder what I was thinking.  But writing is how I process, and I'd rather be able to look back at some of the process later on than rewrite my thoughts to sound wiser than I actually am.)



Grief

When the news of COVID-19 first hit, an epidemic in China, I was concerned for my friends and former students and colleagues in China (and the ones who were just leaving China for a conference in Thailand.)  I was not particularly concerned about it hitting the US; there has been plenty of panic in my lifetime over possible terrible pandemics that either didn't turn out to be nearly as bad as the hype or didn't end up coming anywhere near where I lived.  A few students messaged me about being stuck at home and bored; friends shared updates as they scrambled to figure out plans, knowing that they couldn't go back to their schools in China for the time being.

A week ago, I was still planning to go out to Bloomington for a week, to hang out with some of my people there while IU was on spring break.  (It was a pretty glorious plan.)  Thursday evening, Jason and I started talking more seriously about if that was still a good idea as news of more and more diagnosed cases of COVID-19 popped up across the US.  I did a good bit of crying and a lot of praying and not much sleeping that night, grieving the losses that came on either side of the decision.  By morning it seemed pretty clear (although I wasn't anything close to happy about it...) that it was a wiser and more loving decision to stay in PA.

(Looking back, that was a solid decision, and I am extremely thankful to Jason for making me consider it more seriously and to Mike and Susan for being incredibly gracious and supportive about the change in plans.)

Life is crazy full of unknowns right now.  My work is still open (hurray for gas stations!) but no one really knows from day to day what's going to change.  Our plans for a June wedding now have enormous question marks hovering over them.  (A pandemic, let me tell you, wasn't on any of the lists of concerns it occurred to me to take into consideration.)  I feel like I fell asleep about a week ago in my own world and woke up in a dystopian movie where no one really knows what's going on, or like all of us have suddenly been transported to a foreign country and are trying to learn the new social rules.

My grief, at this point, is more over the loss of normal routine and life than over sickness.  Yesterday I was thinking about the prayer For the Death of a Dream from Every Moment Holy.

O Christ, in whom the final fulfillment 
of all hope is held secure...
what I so wanted
has not come to pass...
and in my head I know that you are sovereign even over this --
over my tears, my confusion, and my disappointment.
But I still feel,
in this moment, 
as if I have been abandoned,
as if you do not care that these hopes 
have collapsed to rubble.
And yet I know this is not so...
You are the King of my collapse.
You answer not what I demand,
but what I do not even know to ask...
Not my dreams, O Lord,
not my dreams,
but yours, be done.
Amen.

There will, I assume, be other causes for grief later.  But those aren't my problem yet.

Hope

There are a lot of things that are fascinating to me, and that I am extremely curious to see how they play out.  Is this going to actually force us to revamp our lifestyles to be more in conformity with what we know would be healthier and happier -- a little slower, a little less consumerism, a little more intentional?  Is this going to push globalization into a new era, where we're more thoughtful about what should be done virtually and what should be done locally?  I'm so very intrigued.

I love seeing how widespread responses of kindness and creativity.  All over, people are offering up their skills and resources to help others.  (Two of my favorites: A Digital Care Package from the Rabbit Room and the Down Dog Yoga App, which is free to use for the next couple of weeks.)  My facebook feed is full of musicians streaming their music and churches streaming services; I keep catching pieces of The Gospel Tabernacle's daily prayers and feeling my heart settle down.  It's a good and beautiful thing to see the interfacing of different traditions of Christianity coming together to figure out how to be the church when we're trying to practice social distancing to love our neighbors.  What is this going to mean for world Christianity in a year, in a decade?  I don't know, but I'm guessing that God is working in ways that we haven't imagined and wouldn't have gotten to any time in our own plans.

For my own life, I'm thankful for the routine of still having work.  I'm tackling some projects that I wanted to get done (postcards from China that have been sitting on my desk for a while, updates to my church's website.)  I might become more faithful about listening to podcasts (maybe), because as much as I love reading, eventually my eyes feel like they're going to fall out.  Last year, a lot of my thoughts about this year of transitioning back to the US were that life should be simpler, slower, and smaller.  I didn't anticipate it happening this way, but I think there's space for a lot of good to grow.

I'm grateful for the abundant memes, for the humor that is encouraging in dark and uncertain situations.  I'm grateful for the friends who remind me of Martin Luther's words in the time of plague outbreak, of how Julian of Norwich and William Shakespeare and so many others wrote works of truth and beauty and creativity in the midst of disaster and death.  I've been flooded with messages from former students and some of my Chinese colleagues asking how we're doing in America, how my family is, if I'm taking proper precautions.  A pandemic isn't what I would have chosen as a catalyst for continuing relationships, but it's what we've been given, and I am so very thankful for the technology that allows us to stay in touch.

Spacious has been a word coming to mind over and over the past few weeks for different reasons, and although my first reaction to the idea of social distancing and quarantining and all isn't "wow, how spacious," it does feel like a unique opportunity to breathe and refocus, to reexamine our lives and rebuild as if everything had burnt down.  That might be, as Sheldon Vanauken termed it, a severe mercy.

Lord, You are my portion
and my cup of blessing;
You hold my future.
The boundary lines have fallen for me
in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
(Psalm 16:5-6)


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