I thought it would be spiritually helpful to me to compose and reflect upon notes from a week of quarantine. I hope you find these helpful to you, especially in comparing them to your own thoughts. It is unusual that so many of us are facing the same predicament and yet in the isolation of quarantine.
Until 5:00 pm on a recent Friday, I was preparing for another week of work. My direct supervisor had told us in a meeting that the superintendent of schools didn’t intend to close the schools. Everything seemed normal at church as well. I had gone to a few Masses and actually received the Eucharist on my tongue without any comment from the priest.
Then came the news that the schools were closed for a week. A few days later, the school closure was extended to three weeks. That same day at evening Mass, the priest refused to give me the Eucharist on my tongue. The start of the next week continued to bring surprises. Churches and gyms closed, while restaurants and cafes started only serving takeout. Given the seemingly erratic nature of the closures and announcements, it’s hardly surprising that many people have been trying to predict more massive and sweeping steps in the next few weeks. It seems clear that the media wants at least to hint that some of the measures, taken in other areas of the country, could be coming soon. Human beings seem to need to understand and to some extent to control their situations. Making these predictions is one way I think we try to do that.
Lemonade from Lemons
I’ve spent the last week trying to put into practice the adage that I heard at a Mass before Masses stopped: Make lemonade out of lemons. I’m not really sure that I’ve succeeded. I’m happy to say that as of now, I really haven’t spent much time on social media. I think probably like many people I’m still trying to figure out what I want/should do with this time. Of course, next week I will start working from home doing who knows what. There is a pretty clear consensus that online schooling isn’t the solution to this problem. The Internet isn’t as universal as we think. We can’t assume that all public school children have access to it.
Entertainment During Quarantine: Reading and Podcasts
I’ve spent this week reading some books. This activity has been nice, but also, at least for me, not the solution. I am not someone who can simply read away a day. Some of these books have been spiritual in nature. Coincidentally, my Godfather decided to give me Simon Peter by Msgr. Georges Cheverot as a very late Christmas gift just before things got really crazy. I’ve also been reading Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week; From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection by Benedict XVI. Both books have been helpful.
I’ve also found listening to podcasts has helped fill the time in a good way. I most recently listened to one by Fr. Mike Schmitz on the Coronavirus. I’m toying with the idea of starting to do the divine office on a daily basis as he suggested. Again, all of these things have been enriching, but they haven’t really filled the void so to speak.
Sacramental Life During Quarantine
I decided to go home at the end of last week partly to fill that void. Spending some time with my parents and my sisters has been nice. It’s different from usual and there have been some moments. There is a lot of tension in the house at these times. Everyone is trying to adjust to being together and figure out how to go forward with their own personal projects as adults living in the same space during a crazy time in our country. Still, it’s been good and to some extent, it has filled that void of loneliness and lack of direction. Sacramentally, I’ve been fairly lucky as well. I’ve had confession and I’ve been able to go to Mass since the priest where my family lives is very openly welcoming parishioners to his private Masses so long as the number of attendees remains under 25.
In some ways, I’m trying during this time to put prayer more front and center in my life. As a friend, who was considering religious life, explained to me once, prayer isn’t really the focal point of most of our lives. When it comes down to it, a lot of my goals have been career-focused. I’m someone who often brings work home. Actually, it’s sort of ridiculous that I do; usually, my lessons are no better or worse for spending a few hours on them in the evening, and, sometimes, the work I’m doing is forgotten the next day in the organized chaos that normally starts the day at a public high school. I could start now to focus more on God and bring this into my work life. Yet I’m sure that the demands of the day will immediately tempt me away from intimacy with God.
Should We Have Goals?
That brings me to the subject of goals. Before I got into teaching, I was apt to believe that progress could be measured by test performance. I’m seeing more and more that this simply isn’t true. Teaching, like most things in life, isn’t quantifiable. Language acquisition is a mysterious process, and even if the tests that measure it were perfect, they would miss a lot of the process. So, what’s an appropriate goal for this time off? I think it would be nice to head back to work feeling rejuvenated, but I’m worried that I’m actually just going to feel less ready when we finally do go back.
It sounds trite but I think the best goal is no goal at all. Maybe I will come up with some practical ways that I can keep God in mind more during my workday. Ultimately, however, the real problem is that I’m constantly making goals and trying to cover up the void of uncertainty in my life. The Coronavirus shows how fruitless this is. Jesus says “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Surrendering to this reality means letting go of the goals I’ve tried to put up as bulwarks against the ravaging nature of change and death and accepting that any little thing can turn life upside down. The Book of Job is a good example.
The Isolation of Job and Our Isolation in Quarantine
Job, who had everything, finds himself asking “What is my strength, that I should hope? and what is mine end, that I should prolong my life?” (Job 6:11). We know that in the end, he regains his hope in God. It’s a painful process, but Job comes to see his life a little more like God sees it. He’s come to realize that the he has no power over the void of uncertainty and death that threatens at any moment to take over. I think he’s also come to see that God’s loving hand is mysteriously behind everything that happens to him. He’s let go of some of his control and gained some wisdom in exchange. Can we do the same in the current common affliction, which we now face in the isolation of quarantine?