I’ve been feeling the need to “say something”, to offer up some kind of comfort or wisdom or spiritual perspective about this pandemic we’re living through. And I’m trying to. But there is so much I am simply unwilling to say. I refuse to offer up shallow pep talks and trite adages. There are no easy answers or fast-forward buttons. This is really, really hard. And although I do believe, absolutely, that we’ll get through it together, and maybe (if we’re wise and well-led) even be better people on the other side. But the truth is, there’s a lot of suffering to be endured before then.
You can disagree with me, of course, but I don’t believe that my generation, or the generations that have come after mine are much acquainted with suffering. Some have experienced personal loss and periods of great distress. Yes. We could all offer up names. And those on the margins of society, the poor, the weak, the small, they have always known what it is to suffer.
But I’m talking about shared suffering, suffering that transcends our individual lives and rises from great disturbances beyond our control. Suffering that changes our collective history, like the coronavirus. We are all of us – every single one of us – vulnerable right now and we will all suffer in one way or another. Even if no one we love gets sick, please God, we will feel the pain. Routines that have long given structure and security to our days are disrupted, likely for a good long while. We are being asked to do our lives much differently, without any preparation and completely against our personal choice. Anxiety – generalized and specific – is high; despair threatens. What will tomorrow bring? Next week? How long, O Lord?
This is uncharted territory for most Americans alive today. I think of my dad’s generation. Good grief. Born in 1911, he endured the flu epidemic of 1918, the early death of both his parents, WW1, the Great Depression and WW2, all before he was past his 40’s. His generation was acquainted with suffering, real, genuine, long-haul struggle. They learned the hard lessons of endurance and courage and sacrifice in the school of life.
So now, it’s us. And maybe we’ll adapt more slowly, inexperienced as we are. But we’ll endure, because we have to. What feels so totally foreign today will become a new normal. Some morning we’ll wake up and the knot in our collective stomachs will be gone. In my somewhat long life and experience, I have often been amazed at the capacity we human beings have for adapting to hard stuff. And every night since this crisis started I go to bed amazed at and grateful for what I see brave and generous human beings doing in the face of it. Maybe you are one of them. If so, thank you.
I get a daily email meditation from Father Richard Rohr, a teacher/theologian and spiritual sage. He founded and runs the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque (cac.org). I’m cutting and pasting a large section of today’s writing.
“We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love. But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole. .. And we have to allow these feelings, and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament…Love alone overcomes fear and is the true foundation that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).”
Today I am suffering because the people I love are suffering. The world I know and love is suffering. I want so badly to numb out the pain, to push it away and refuse to give it voice. It would be so much easier! But if love is the root of that pain – and it is – then perhaps my suffering – and yours -can be a holy thing. I will lean into it, I’ll let myself feel it (but not constantly, that’s too much! ) and give thanks for the connection at its root. And I’ll pray some more, maybe shed a few tears, then go find some way to make a difference. I bet you’re doing the same.