Monday, March 1, 2021

The Winds of March are Blowing On Us Once Again


What will the coming weeks of March in this year of 2021 bring?

Spring, certainly. Much more evening light. Buds and the first blossoms of color. The progress of Lent to the beginning of Holy Week.

In Virginia and most of the United States of America, mid-to-late March will mark one year since the COVID-19 pandemic brought dramatic changes to the structure of our social and economic lives. Though vaccine distribution will continue to increase, we are not likely to see the end the crisis and its far-reaching consequences.

Concrete circumstances vary from one state to another (and in various areas within states). Many adaptations of work, commerce, and social interaction have developed that may well continue in some ways even after the pandemic is finally "over" (though it's hard to see who, if anyone, has the authority to officially declare its end).

We are approaching one year of this strange illness hitting our shores, bringing catastrophe for those gravely afflicted (and their loved ones) as well as requiring heroic and exhausting efforts by overwhelmed medical professionals. All of us have become familiar with "social distancing," cancelled events, "staying-at-home," educational upheaval, magic money from the government, ZOOM, sports in empty stadiums, virtual gatherings of every kind, and many other things we never anticipated 14 months ago when we rang in the new decade on New Year's Day, 2020.

It has been a bizarre and unbearable year for some people, and for all of us it has been (and continues to be) a bit surreal. I don't know what will come next. It's difficult even to come up with plausible imaginary scenarios for vaccinating "everybody" (in the USA? in the world?) rapidly and efficiently, and neatly solving all the problems. Overall, it would be good if we could reach a point where the psychological and emotional stress placed on so many people might be reduced for a significant period of time.

Nevertheless, our lives in this world will never cease to be dramatic, and in some measure arduous. That is the nature of this life: it is a pilgrimage, a journey toward a fulfillment that we never experience definitively in this world. In various ways, we learn through the circumstances of our lives how to travel the road and arrive at its destination, if we permit our minds and hearts to be thus educated.

March has been a month of difficult changes in my life for the past 3 years. 

In March 2018 my father collapsed, literally, and the whole dynamic of our family changed. A man who had taken care of himself for more than 80 years suddenly needed a network of medical assistance and physical and psychological care. This blog includes the memories of the year that followed, which was so hard and yet called his children and grandchildren to learn to love in new ways (while - I trust - mysteriously preparing him for the final length of his own journey).

In March 2019, I had just begun to think that we had "settled in" to new routines with Dad, who seemed more stable and comfortable (as much as could be hoped under the circumstances). Then over a few weeks he got pneumonia and succumbed to systemic complications. He died peacefully on April 3, 2019. We accompanied him through the final weeks and days in a way that brought us all closer together but also brought grief in its aftermath, with all its features that appear to be as unique as the person whose loss we grieve.

At the beginning of March 2020 - even as I heard of mounting complications from the growing coronavirus epidemic in Europe - I expected that for me the month would be marked primarily by the ongoing grieving process, which would include the inevitable "emotional revisiting" of the events of the prior year. The last thing I expected was that by the end of the month, the State of Virginia, the rest of my country, and most of the world would enter into one degree on another of lockdown - that daily life for millions of people would be constrained in ways no one could have imagined while the medical and scientific community tried to understand and battle against a highly contagious, weirdly capricious, and sometimes fatal disease that was spreading everywhere. The fact that most cases were apparently mild was reassuring in one way but unnerving in another: no one could be sure whether or not they had the disease and could become a source of infection to others (some of whom might become seriously ill).

The USA's testing program was woefully unprepared at first, then insufficiently accessible for too long, and sometimes kafkaesque in its procedures. But eventually, widespread testing did become available. A year later, many of us have had (or at least know people close to us who have had) a positive COVID-19 test and/or an uncomfortable but not unbearable case of the infection. We are also all-too-aware of people for whom the disease has been a terrible tragedy, and others for whom the accompanying social and economic upheaval have presented grave challenges for their work, livelihood, or education.

I'm not going to try to forecast what the end of March 2021 will be like. Of course, I have subconscious expectations and not-always-sub-conscious anxieties. As the winds of March blow, I feel in them my own humanity: with so much to be grateful for, and with still more aspirations and an inexhaustible desire. I feel my humanity: vulnerable, inadequate, flawed, full of needs that I cannot meet by my own strength, and wanting to remember every day - again and again - that God is my strength and that my trust must be in Him even as I contribute my own best efforts together with others to face whatever challenges lie ahead.