A year ago, when we began our Lenten journey, coronavirus and social distancing were not in our lexicon. Face coverings and hand sanitizers were deemed hospital tools, not daily accessories. Then came lockdown, and our lives were literally turned on their ends, sucked into a pandemic vortex of medical, social, emotional and economic upheaval. Our faith would be tested in ways we could never have foreseen.
But, as people of faith, we accepted the challenges before us. Families confined together at home talked to each other more. They listened more. Goals were set and projects completed. We came to appreciate the little things we missed so much, like coffee after Mass, lunch with a friend or Sunday supper with Grandma.
We engaged in contemplation and action. We prayed for the sick and essential workers. We prayed for a vaccine. We worked from home if we could. We worshipped together online. Children and teachers adapted to virtual instruction and learning. We wore facemasks and social distanced. We supported small businesses and did what was necessary to make sure our neighbors were safe, sheltered and fed. But COVID-19 was relentless.
Though our Easter celebrations were not traditional, we found comfort and joy in the resurrection story and in the renewal that spring offers us every year. The summer provided opportunities for outside time, at a distance, with family and friends. There were drive-by graduations, weddings and celebrations.
But by fall, we were weary. Weary of the solitude and separation. It was hard. We missed people. We were exhausted by window visits with loved ones alone in nursing homes and FaceTime calls with those sick or dying in hospitals. Coronavirus had ushered us into an alternative universe of isolation, bordering on despair. The planet itself was tired. Too many people had lost everything. Too many were sickened by this invisible, often symptomless threat to humanity.
As the year ended, Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went; we connected and celebrated with long distance gatherings on Zoom and Skype and social media. We prayed and adapted as best we could, but there were far too many empty chairs at holiday tables. COVID wasn’t going away just yet.
Many struggled to find God in this altered reality. But if we look with new eyes in this new year, we can find hope in some unexpected places. We can learn from our experiences and do better. Our forced isolation highlighted for us just how much the gift of presence matters! We are social beings, hardwired to be with others. The physical and spiritual healing power of touch is real: Research shows that infants and adults left alone for long periods, even when their physical needs are well met, simply die of loneliness. We need each other.
The pandemic could not have made that more clear. Sick people need medical staff. Medical staff need transportation and childcare. Everyone needs food and shelter. Our understanding of essential workers will never be the same. We do not travel the journey of life alone.
Our hands are designed to reach out, to lift up, to guide and to hold tight to loved ones. A hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back does not require words and cannot be extended via video chat. Hugs matter. There is nothing like a warm embrace to enhance a celebration or to ease the pain of loss.
Death waits for no one, and in the pandemic, it has broken our hearts daily. Limited-capacity prayer services and socially distant wakes do little to assuage the sting of not being able to say goodbye. Modified services and wakes—without singing and stories, hugs, tears and even laughter—force us to compartmentalize our grief, allowing it to weigh on our souls like a stone waiting to be lifted.
Joy and sorrow are part of our collective psyche. They are meant to be shared; there, God is found in our midst.
History offers us hope that God has not abandoned us in these uncertain times. Our grandparents and great-grandparents endured fires, floods, famine, the Spanish Flu epidemic and so much more. They did so with an unshakable faith, and trust in one another. They modeled for us courage, resolve, persistence and proof that the power of love can endure all things, great and small. Their legacy is one of hope.
As we prepare for Easter this year, let us open our weary hearts to the gifts of the season and let our faith shine as a beacon of hope and healing for our fractured world. Let us welcome the challenges before us, opening our hearts and minds to the breath of the Spirit within each of us while we continue to journey together as Easter people.