If the coronavirus had hit seven years ago, I would have been terrified. I’m immunocompromised, but I’m also prone to anxiety and worst-case scenario thinking. I always tend to assume that if it is going to happen to someone then it is going to happen to me or the ones I love.
But then I had a child. And there’s nothing quite like having a child to make anxiety so much worse. Suddenly, I was faced with a decision: let it get worse, or learn to rise above it. More children came. And then I knew I only had one choice.
At the end of the day, we are all going to die. No amount of researching and scrolling or green juicing and intermittent fasting is going to prevent that. The question, as Gandalf so aptly put it, “is what to do with the time we are given.” For many of us, coronavirus will be a few weeks’ inconvenience, while some of us may face grimmer realities. But how will we all look back on this time? What will we have done with it?
I want to live this time well, regardless of the outcome. I want to protect my body and the bodies of my loved ones, but I also know that too much worry about the body leads to neglect of the spirit. We cannot neglect the spirit. After all, the spirit is the part of us that will not die.
Here are my suggestions on living well— on nurturing the spirit— during this time of crisis and uncertainty.
- Stop reading so much news. Read Kristin Lavransdatter (or another good fiction book) instead. Twitter and Facebook will continue to update by the moment. We do not have to read every single one of those updates and there is no question that being glued to them only causes more anxiety and unrest. I suggest a news check 4-5 times a day, or before you go out. In the meantime, pick up a good book about people who suffer heroically and find meaning and joy amidst their suffering. I suggest Kristin Lavransdatter, in particular, because it is set during the time of the Black Plague. They didn’t do a great job of taking care of the body (to their credit— they didn’t know much about it), but they had a very different approach to nurturing the spirit!
- Spend time with and check in on your loved ones. If you’re stuck at home and away from friends and colleagues, use this time to nurture your relationships with your family. If you’re both comfortable with it, visit extended family members. If you have older, vulnerable family members, call them frequently.
- Pray. Visit your Church if you’re not sick or vulnerable. There has been a lot of media coverage about Rome’s church closings. On the one hand, I understand it, practically. But, on the other hand, it makes me sad. There is something to be said for those saints of old who went out to be with the sick and the dying. There is something to be said for the prayerful procession ordered by Saint Gregory the Great during one of the plagues. I am not suggesting that churches not be careful. But let us not just abandon the spiritual life in order to protect the physical. That would be a grave and horrible mistake. There are creative ways to keep connected to your faith. It can be as simple as driving to your church and sitting in the car outside to say a prayer with your family.
- Get your life in order. Having canned food is important. But what about making sure you’ve reconciled grievances and dealt with wounds? The fatality rate is probably not relevant to most of us. But there are some for whom the coronavirus is a serious threat. We need to accept that reality. If you believe in the power of confession, go now, before the churches shut down. If you haven’t written a last will and testament or a letter of intent, maybe now is the time to do it.
- Stay cozy and soak up the little beauties of being homebound. Whether it’s tornado warnings or ice storms or family illness quarantines, being stuck at home can provide for some beautiful, precious memories. But with our constant access to the outside world, it is easy to escape the reality of being homebound and therefore, to never reap the benefits. I hope my children remember this as a time when we read extra books and watched extra movies and spent lots of time sitting on the deck together. I hope they remember this as a time when their parents were more present, not less. A time that brought us together and not apart. A time that we made the best of.