Here in the U.S., we had a bit more time to get ready for what was coming. The suffering of Wu Han and of Italy were very clear, shown on TV and Internet – or at least on some TV networks and Internet sites. Unfortunately, there was also a very strong desire on the part of some of our leaders to play down the crisis. “It will just miraculously go away,” said our president, words that encouraged many of his admirers to shrug COVID-19 off as just a kind of flu…no big deal.
Well, he was wrong. And now we are deep in the midst of a serious outbreak, with the most cases in the world. We haven’t gone beyond the fatalities of Italy yet, but it’s pretty clear that we will. New York City is struggling for breath, and other major American cities are also having trouble. It is a somber moment in the life of our country, just as it is for everyone else in the world.
Happily, many of our state governors were paying attention, as were many leaders in local government, health care and other fields. The governors issued “stay at home” orders, which have mostly been followed, often at extreme cost. Many have lost their jobs, while others, still working, are risking their lives to keep the rest of us fed and cared for. At the same time, it’s sad and frustrating to note that some are still acting as if nothing is wrong, or at least that they, personally, have no responsibility. Beaches and parks –and even some churches – are often full of people who cannot or will not keep the necessary distance. A number of governors have also resisted telling their citizens to stay home, and the results are predictable. Unfortunately, many of the states without such orders are predominantly rural and older in population; if Grandma falls ill, it will take longer to get to a hospital, and once she gets there, she might not find the ventilator she needs.
Hearing and reading about how others are managing days and weeks without jobs to go to, with family members living in tight quarters 24/7, invites us Sisters to greater awareness and empathy. That goes for all people affected, no matter their social status. If NETFLIX is all that’s keeping you “sane,” as some of the more affluent say, that’s not easy. And if you’ve also still got to hustle to find the money for food and shelter by going to your job checking in the supermarket or driving a city bus in Philly, it’s really tough. Lots of material for our prayer, as I’m sure it is for all the rest of the Assumption as well.
We Sisters are ok for the moment, able to practice “social-distancing” and mostly stay at home, as we’ve been asked to do. We stay in touch with our people by any available means. Sometimes that’s meant writing a quick note by post; other times it’s been a phone call or Facetime or even just shouting across the street! And that communication is most definitely a two way street -- our friends have really stepped up to help us, especially young neighbors and friends who want to keep us Sisters safe, since we are mostly of an age that makes us most vulnerable to the virus.
We grieve with those who are grieving. News from Spain has been especially hard – the communities who’ve suffered such heavy losses are very present to us. And we know many others who have experienced loss, whether from death or from loss of job or even loss of routine that leaves them with too many hours that feel empty and aimless. I think we are all deeply grateful for our life in community, for the built-in rhythm of prayer and activity that helps us live our days in purpose and peace. I try to imagine life right now without the Office to give me structure, and I just can’t do it.
One other point concerning our prayer – the experience of watching Pope Francis give his “Urbi et Orbi” blessing was powerful –one old man in white standing alone, looking out over an empty St. Peter’s Square, praying for the whole world. Watching and listening to him as he spoke to us from his office the other night was also touching. That very dear moment when he wished us “Buona sera” . . .and then wished us a good dinner, too – who wouldn’t love a “papa” like that? Grazie, Santo Padre! Gracias, Santo Padre! Merci Saint Père! Thank you, Holy Father. Stay well yourself. We need you.
As for Holy Week, like all Assumption communities, here in Lansdale we are adapting our life and prayer together. We look forward to a very modified Seder on Holy Thursday night (no wine in the house could be a small challenge, I guess! J), after which we hope to remain in deep prayer and silence on Good Friday and through Holy Saturday. As always we look forward to a joyful Easter Sunday morning, when, together with all the Church and all the Assumption, we’ll sing with all our might:
“Surrexit Dominus vere, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Surrexit Christus hodie, Alleluia, Alleluia!”
Stay safe, Sisters and Friends. We have you in our hearts and our prayer over here. From Nuala, Lansdale