OVER this last month, one by one the pillars that have defined and established our 21st century American lives have been swept away. Work. School. Sports. Travel. Dining out. Community events. Concerts. Financial security. Even gatherings at church. All gone, overcome by a microbe we can’t even see.
COVID-19 has given March Madness a new definition. Never in my years of existence has life been so upended, worldwide.
In the beginning of the month, the virus seemed very far away and forbidding people to leave their homes was something China did, not the U.S. I remember standing in a neighborhood Walmart staring curiously at empty shelves as an employee restocked toilet paper. I wondered where the rest of it had gone.
I didn’t realize then that the panic had already begun. I picked up the last three-pack of Clorox wipes. It was strange to see them sitting on the shelf all alone.
Soon after, my younger daughter called me. Sarah is a physician assistant in an emergency room in Atlanta, as is her husband. “No matter what they say,” she told me, “it’s already in the community. The initial test kits didn’t work, and there aren’t enough of the good ones, so people aren’t being tested. But COVID-19 is out there, so be aware of it.”
I had a speaking engagement in Newport News the next day. I didn’t want to cancel at the last minute, so I kept it. I stuck one canister of those wipes in my car and I used them liberally, on the door handles of the restaurant, on the steering wheel of my car, on my own hands. Afterward, I was happy to get home to my own nest and to my dog.
A few days later, the number of diagnosed cases began to rise, and the pillars of our lives began to collapse.
We learned social distancing. Schools closed. Sports seasons were cancelled. People were told to work from home. Churches moved online. And Wall Street became a dizzying roller-coaster ride worthy of a few middle-of-the night screams.
I felt rattled. Where was this going? Who would take care of my dog if I got sick? Would Sarah and her husband and their two little girls be OK? How about my family members with compromised immune systems or underlying conditions?
As anxieties nibbled at my soul, I realized I’d been down this rocky road before. Just a few years ago, both my husband and my mother were in hospice care at the same time; him from cancer, her from old age. Death hovered over us and life felt unstable.
And yet, when I turned hard toward God, when I called on Him, He did not fail. I got through that time, not without pain, but with a deeper capacity to love and more spiritual strength than I had before.
So faced with COVID-19, I did what I’d learned to do then: I sought God. I turned to the Bible and to prayer. I focused on the great promises: “I will never leave you or forsake you;” “I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I sang old hymns and new praise songs. I connected online with like-minded friends. And I looked for ways to help others.
I might feel like I’m on a boat in the midst of a stormy sea, but the Calmer of the Storm is right here with me.
In America, we have been very comfortable, especially these last 70 years or so. We’ve gotten used to advanced medicine, clean water, and plentiful food. Deprivation for us is not having Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery. Many of us don’t know how to suffer. I certainly didn’t before life hit me hard, as it will all of us at some time.
I found it interesting to read what Martin Luther advised when the plague went through Wittenberg in 1527. Urged to leave, he refused, and stayed with his pregnant wife, Katherine, to minister to those who were sick.
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us,” he wrote. “I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me.” (“Luther’s Works,” Fortress Press, 1999)
Luther did survive that plague and likewise most of us will survive this one. Meanwhile, without our sports and concerts and events to distract us, maybe it’s a good time to examine our priorities. What’s really important? As my pastor said a week ago, when we look back on this time, what will your story be?
COVID-19 arrived during Lent, a time when Christians focus on the cross and the miraculously empty tomb lying just beyond it. This year, we may not be able to gather, but Easter will not be cancelled. We know that nothing—not death or life, angels or rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor COVID-19—can separate us from the love of God.
Easter is our reminder. The empty tomb is our guarantee.