Welcome, Virus

For the first time since this virus hit the U.S., last night I woke up scared.  My chest cinched with worry; my breathing was shallow.  I’m a little bit afraid of getting sick, but mostly I’m scared for the vulnerable people I love and for those in our communities who are already hit with financial hardship, social isolation, and the burdens of handling this epidemic.  My heart beats frantically, terrified of this new reality which won’t necessarily go away when the virus recedes.  Welcome, fear.

This morning I’m grieving.  My eleven-year-old is home from school, purportedly for three weeks but likely more.  I’ve lost half of my work time; she’s lost a routine with a teacher she adores and group learning where she thrives and a public school community that’s nurtured her for six years.  Our spring break plans to visit my in-laws, whom I love dearly and haven’t seen in ages, are canceled.  I’m sad for my aunt, who will turn eighty in a few weeks, holed up in a small apartment in Queens.  I weep for this rapidly changing world, my heart physically hurting.  Welcome, grief.

I’m also pissed off, mostly at leaders who’ve been slashing social services for years and who haven’t overhauled the medical system to make it more accessible and versatile.  But I’m also mad at our wretched economic disparities that mean the wealthy can fly in private jets while the poor have no choice but to board the bus and work in crowded places.  I’m angry that nature can conjure up so virulent a disease.  I’m irate that those of us privileged enough to hunker down now, who’ve made such rapid lifestyle changes, haven’t responded to racial disparities or gun violence or the climate crisis anywhere near the same commitment when these are just as dire.  Fury flares through my body like fire.  Welcome, anger.

Much as I want to push these feelings away, much as my to-do list is piling up with people to care for and long-neglected tasks I might as well tackle now that I’m stuck at home, I welcome what I’m experiencing in this moment, in my body, in my thoughts, in my emotions.  I’m practicing being present, because now is the only time, ever, to consent to love’s full potential.  Now is the only time I have to open myself to loving possibilities that are bigger than me.  Now, here, in my body.

I can’t control this situation—none of us can.  The security we desperately want, for ourselves and our country, we will never get.  Nor will we receive the comfort of a magic solution, from either God or government.  We each can exercise our agency, making loving choices as best we’re able, but our agency has limits.  So what can we do?  We can accept these limits.  We can release, again and again, our needs for security, affection, and control.  We can embrace this moment as it is, fully welcoming the wisdom of the body, because in our fear and sadness and anger hides our immense love for this world, and that’s where divinity enters.   –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

(I’ve leaned heavily on the Welcoming Prayer here, developed by Mary Mrozowski as an application of Centering Prayer for daily life.  You can learn more at Contemplative Outreach.)