What a strange world we’re living in these days, huh? In just a matter of weeks life as we know it has come to a screeching halt. Sports seasons have been suspended. Concerts are being postponed. Restaurants are closing their doors. Businesses are being shut down – some temporarily, others unfortunately will not be so lucky. Entire populations of people have been told to stay home, to quarantine themselves from the outside world. With this comes a mountain of uncertainty and fear. How long will this last? When will I get to see my coworkers, family, and friends in person again and not through a screen? When will life return to normal? Some people are asking more devastating and heart wrenching questions. When will I be able to start working again? How am I going to make ends meet financially? How am I going to survive?
COVID-19 has been a wrecking ball that just won’t seem to stop. Each blow is more damaging than the last. I’ll be the first to admit that I did not take this seriously when this virus hit the news. This will pass through, there’s no need to worry. There’s no chance things will actually get cancelled. I won’t be affected by any of this. And then, day by day, things in my life changed. It began with a trip to Chicago being cancelled. Then came another cancelled trip to North Carolina. That was quickly followed by a retreat being called off. Meetings began to take place remotely. Next thing I knew, my place of work, the YMCA, was being shut down temporarily. All the while, government mandates and restrictions were being put in place. Gatherings were reduced to no more than 1,000 people, then 250, then 100, and then all the way down to 10. Cities and states began issuing official stay-at-home ordinances in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, which has only been spreading more rapidly by the day.
But you know all of this. There’s no way to avoid knowing it. It’s on every news station, every radio station, and it’s at the center of every conversation we have, whether we want it to be or not. I, for one, am okay with never hearing the word quarantine ever again. Never in our lifetimes have any of us seen something like this happen on such a humongous scale. This isn’t just a local, regional, or national pandemic. This is global. I can’t quite wrap my head around that fact. There are people around the world asking the same questions I’ve been asking myself. As chilling as that thought is, I also find it oddly reassuring. Our world becomes seemily smaller each year as new technology is introduced. We can connect with someone ten time zones away in a matter of seconds. We truly are all in this together.
That brings me to the purpose of this post. I’m not writing this to restate everything everybody already knows or to say “woe is me.” No, I’m writing this in my own effort to find the positives in this new reality from my own perspective. Now, I want to preface by saying that I am fortunate to write this from a very privileged perspective. Yes, I have been affected by this pandemic, but only in the most minor ways possible. I still have access to food and shelter and still currently have a steady paycheck. I am mostly thankful that I do not know anyone personally that has contracted the virus or suffered greatly from it (in the pit of my stomach that is my biggest fear). With all that being said, I want to share some of my personal reflections from the past several weeks.
I’m a naturally introverted person. Yes, I do love being around people and I am involved in a number of activities and groups. But I also love the feeling of cancelling plans. That’s not to say I don’t thoroughly enjoy the things I do or the people I interact with. It’s just that sometimes I need a day or a night to decompress and unwind and oftentimes the only way to achieve that is for something to get cancelled or postponed. So when meetings, gatherings, and events started to get cancelled I wasn’t overly distraught. My initial line of thinking was that this would provide a much needed opportunity to rest and slow down from all of the running around. I could catch up on sleep, try out some new shows, and catch my breath. Sure, it would be tough not seeing friends or family as frequently or not having my favorite sports teams to watch on TV. But, I figured I could manage it.
After about the first week I found that I wasn’t as rejuvenated as I expected. If anything, I felt more exhausted than before the time of quarantine. Why was that? I couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. On the surface, I should feel much more rested. I was definitely getting more sleep and I wasn’t exerting any additional physical or mental energy. And yet, I felt my motivation and determination slipping away with each passing day. I had told myself before my isolation that I was going to use this time to accomplish a great number of things. I was going to get in better shape, read more, learn how to cook, pray more, pick up a new hobby, and so on. Each of these things, though, seemed so daunting and overwhelming. I now had all this downtime, something I have long desired, to accomplish all of these things, but suddenly with no motivation to get off the couch. I had all this new time on my hands and I was wasting every second of it.
A few days ago I pulled myself off the couch after yet another Netflix binge-session to go outside for a run. It had been quite some time since I had been on a run, so I was expectedly slow. I was nonetheless surprised at just how out of shape I was. I have no excuse to not get in shape. I have nowhere I need to be! As I was huffing and puffing along the trail something clicked. Yes, I was going to be relatively bound to my house for the next month or so. That didn’t mean I could use that as an excuse to do nothing. Quite the opposite, actually. This would be an incredibly unique opportunity to do so many things. But wait, didn’t I already tell myself this? Yes, yes I did. However, it became clear that these things weren’t just going to happen. I was looking at this time of isolation as a chance to rest while simultaneously expecting those aforementioned things to happen. Note to self – that’s not how it works. Those things requires effort. I wasn’t going to get in shape by sitting on the couch – no, I had to get out and run like I was in that moment. With that realization came a renewed wave of determination. I was going to make the most of this quarantine, one day at a time.
I was now determined to find the positives in the situation in which I found myself. With that came a lot of internal reflection. What is it that I’ve been taking for granted? What are the things or people in my life that I haven’t appreciated enough? My mind naturally zeroed in on my family and friends. I didn’t realize just how much I’d miss them. I was no longer able to go over to Matt and Julie’s house whenever I wanted to see friends or stop by my parent’s on Sunday afternoon after Mass. I wasn’t able to celebrate my niece Lily’s second birthday with my sister and brother-in-law. Youth group on Sunday nights seemed to be a thing of the past, as did Via on Monday nights.
The good news, though, is that these people didn’t just fall off the face of the earth. Far from it. You see, we have this wonderful thing called “technology.” Have you heard of it? Although I’m not able to physically see my parents I can still call them whenever I want. I might not be able to play Jackbox at Matt and Julie’s house with all of my friends, but that won’t stop us from playing over a Zoom call. One of the highlights of each day has been the FaceTime call from my sister Laura so that I can spend some virtual time with Lily. Just because I can’t physically meet up with the people at youth group or Via doesn’t mean we can’t still spend time in community and worship together. Imagine if this pandemic had happened 20 years ago? Heck, even 10 years ago? There’s a solid chance we’d forget what one another looked like. Let’s not take for granted the technology at our disposal that allows us to spend time with our loved ones in the next best way possible.
On the complete opposite side of technology, I’ve also found myself much more amazed by the nature around me. I live a just a two minute drive from a park with more nature trails than I can count. For the last several days I’ve been going out for a run on these trails, taking in the sights. The beauty of everything has been heightened and magnified. The sunshine on my skin feels that much warmer, the breeze that much more refreshing, the flowers that much brighter, the air that much fresher. It’s the same outside world that has been there literally everyday of my life. Why have I been ignoring it for so long? Imagine if this all had happened in the dead of winter or the heat of the summer? The outdoors wouldn’t be quite the same refuge it is at this moment. Let’s not forget that.
The average lifespan is just north of 72 years (trust me, I looked it up). The month or so that we will spend in isolation is a relative drop in the bucket compared to that. But what I’ve realized, and hopefully many of you have too, is that all time is precious. The time that passes during this quarantine is time we will never get back. We won’t be able to spend that in the ways we anticipated, but that doesn’t mean it’s time that should be wasted or skipped. We can look ahead all we want, anticipating and planning what we’ll do when this pandemic passes. When this quarantine started I was one of many people (probably all of us) that wished we could fast forward and leave COVID-19 in the past. But now, I think it would be silly to let this time pass without recognizing the opportunities that lie in front of us. Have you been wanting to read more? You have thousands of years-worth of books at your disposal and time on your hands. Pick a book, any book. Have you been wanting to be more active? The weather is beautiful and you have nowhere to be. Go outside. Have you long desired to pick up a new language or learn how to play an instrument? Good news! Nothing is getting in the way of that.
What I’ve been trying to remind myself of recently is that this isn’t just time to binge watch every show on Netflix or Hulu. Sure, those are good ways to decompress after a long day of work or being out and about. That’s not quite as necessary these days. What I’m challenging myself to do is be productive. Obviously that pertains to the work I’m doing from home, but is also extends beyond that. I don’t want to see a day go by where I didn’t push myself in some capacity. Some days it might be as simple as washing the dishes or doing laundry. That’s okay. More than anything, though, I want to better myself as a person. I wrote a post a while back about wanting to do one thing each day that helped me improve either physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. I regret to say that quickly faded. Why? Well, life got in the way, as I would like to say. Now, however, time is my friend. I would hate to waste it.
Take a few moments right now to close your eyes and think of all the things you are thankful for. How many of those things did you routinely give any thought to before this outbreak? If you’re like me, not many of them. I admittedly don’t often sit and think about how much I love my family and friends or how beautiful the outdoors are.
Do me a favor and close your eyes one more time and contemplate this question: what were the things you valued before any of this happened? Now, ask yourself this: has that changed? It certainly has for me. I’ve never thought of myself as a materialistic person but this quarantine has put that notion to the test. I don’t feel like I have the need to buy the latest and greatest technology. However, this time has made me more aware of the money I spend and question what’s truly a necessity. As it turns out, I buy a lot more useless crap than I actually need. I don’t think that makes me an inherently bad person, but now I have a greater sense of how materialistic I actually was. I’ve also realized how much value I placed in what I was doing more so than who I was doing them with. It’s become clear that I was more concerned with the appearance of being busy and involved. Did I regularly stop and think about those people I spent all that time with? Yeah, right. But now, all I want to do is see each one of them, face to face, and give them the biggest hug.
I’ve heard many people say that they can’t wait for things to go back to normal. I don’t want things to go back to normal. Allow me to explain. I obviously want to get back to a sense of regularity. I look forward to going back to work everyday and going out to a restaurant or a friend’s house when I please. I’m eager to be back at Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals play. I can’t wait to be back at Mass and youth group and Via with my faith community. What I don’t want to see happen is our society at large return to its previous state – one built on greed, materialism, and pride. I don’t want us to come out on the other side of this pretending like nothing happened. I hope that we as people come out of this with a greater appreciation for our fellow man and with a renewed sense of love, faith, and respect. I pray that we no longer place our on dependency and identities on items or status, but rather on how we treat our neighbors. I don’t want to ever let another opportunity for a hug slip away, or to forget the warmth of the sun shining down on me, or to take for granted the joy of laughter with loved ones.
Just about everything we thought we valued has been stripped away. Sports, concerts, travelling and vacationing, social media clout, workplace status, you name it. The things that do remain? Human connection. Love. Faith. Friendship. Imagination. Creativity. Those are things that can never be taken from us, and how lucky we are to be able to lean on those things in our greatest time of need.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33