I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of sick of Coronavirus. And when I say sick, I don’t mean I have Coronavirus, but that I’m tired of it. I hate how it has forced us to live. I dislike wearing masks and social distancing. The plexiglass barriers at every cash register, the closed storefronts. In darker moments I get angry – angry at the people who are responsible, the people who allowed this to happen. I get angry at what it has done to our community, the suffering inflicted on workers and small business owners, the fear felt by the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Not knowing when this will end adds to the frustration.
I’ve found some consolation these days from a book by the English spiritual writer and mystic, Caryll Houselander, entitled: This War is the Passion, in which she reflects on the experience of living in London during the blitz of 1940-41. Houselander writes that “those who suffer most through air raids, or the apprehension of them, are people who think they have nothing to do during them.” The intense fear of being bombed was made worse by the terrible tedium of sitting helplessly at home, often in dimly-lit rooms to maintain the mandatory blackout. Far from being wasted time, Houselander argues, “a raid gives the opportunity of countless little acts of love, such as making a cup of tea, giving up the best place, controlling our own feelings in order to help others to be calm and plucky, and when it can be done without irritating, reminding people that they are in the hands of God, or contriving to make them laugh.” She continues: “If you cannot do anything else for people during raids, you can pray for them. You can remember all the people who will be more afraid than you are, all those whose lives are as precious as yours, and as useful, all those who are in a far, far worse plight than you are, because they are without faith. You can pray for each one by name and so make an act of love.”
The pandemic has left no one untouched, but I think among those who suffer most are those who do not feel safe leaving their homes or going into public spaces. Houselander’s words remind us that time stuck at home does not need to be wasted, that every moment is an opportunity to perform acts of love towards others. That includes praying for family members, friends, and even anonymous strangers who are suffering because of what’s going on. Some speculate that much of the social turmoil that we see around our country has been intensified by people’s frustration with life under COVID-19. I think that’s true. In a similar way, Houselander saw how the sight of innocent suffering during the war had the effect of filling people with a kind of violent energy, almost like an adrenaline rush, that could easily turn into hatred – especially for the enemy. But, she writes, it can also be turned into love. “Instead of working ourselves up into a fury and exhausting the extra energy we have got, we can spend [that energy] in doing something to relieve the suffering that provoked it.”
It is tempting in this time of pandemic to seethe in our self-pity, and to look for someone on whom we can pour out our frustrations, including the people we live with. If we give into this temptation, we can end up inflicting more wounds on people instead of healing them. Houselander encourages her readers in their frustrations to turn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. “If all the energy, the spiritual adrenalin, given to us to face the war, is used up in acts of love, there will be nothing left to hate with, and moreover, we shall cease to have the capacity for hate.” This pandemic is the Passion. Instead of letting it fill our hearts and the hearts of others with sadness, anger, and hatred, we must ask for the grace to bear this cross well, that it might be an opportunity to learn to love better. Otherwise it will have been wasted time.