‘You know what people are missing as they hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer? They are missing that our lives are gifts. We are blessed to ever be here in the first place. Everything we have in life is a blessing. Our families. Our homes. Our jobs. You may think you earned it all, but none of it would be without a loving God who created you and the world.”
That was an Uber driver. One of my last Uber rides for a while, I suspect. He is Muslim and seemed to have some real peace about him as he drove me to Catholic Mass, the same day that Mass cancellations became a thing here in the U.S. I knew it was happening in Rome, but, gosh, it sure did seem to happen here quickly.
It’s been in the news over the past year or so that my fellow Catholics have a bit of a crisis when it comes to Eucharistic devotion. Many do not know or believe fundamental Catholic doctrine about Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. It’s hard stuff, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi once wrote, reflecting on a granddaughter’s First Communion awe over this teaching. With the gift of faith, it is amazing grace. With Masses cancelled and churches being locked “in an abundance of caution,” will people realize what they are missing with the deepest longings of their heart? Will it give us conviction about the truth of the Gospel and spur us to live it all the more, even in this time of crisis?
I read one testimony from a Christian American woman in Wuhan who reflected on her time in quarantine, at the 48-day mark. She and her family and neighbors have experienced community like never before. They know one another better, make room for one another with more sensitivity. They have been forced to stop. Period. For those who remains healthy, this can be a blessing. For those who don’t, we must remain vigilant in love and prayer. And pray for our health-care workers and priests, who are on the front lines of service.
I also keep thinking about a man named Patrick who gave me a hug outside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral not too long ago. Lots of things happen on the streets of Manhattan, so I don’t think anyone thought much of it at the time. I can’t help but wonder what is happening to Patrick today. He had talked to me about maybe going to see folks at Catholic Charities, but he told me that he prefers sleeping on the street to a homeless shelter. He told me about the beautiful sleeping bag someone had given him as a gift — “It really keeps you warm!” — that was stolen at one of the shelters. It’s colder but generally safer on the streets, he has concluded. Every time I hear people talk about staying home and self-quarantining I think of Patrick. How does Patrick do that? Now that many of our lives are being upended, might we care to think a bit more about the likes of Patrick, might we pray and find out what we can do help support services that he might be able to avail himself of with some dignity?
People like Patrick make a real impression on me because despite their challenges and the cold brutal reality of their lives, they have a spirit of gratitude and goodness about them. Patrick seems to have hope. I obviously don’t know his whole story and all its complications, but he seems to have a simplicity about him — of the kind that we could all afford to rediscover.
Another conversation I had, when everything was starting to shut down, was with an 80-year-old man named Dennis. He told me about his adult son, Michael, who had a successful job but eventually lost it because of Crohn’s disease. Dennis told me that his son is applying for government assistance, but there’s nothing yet. But government assistance isn’t what Dennis wants for his son, he wants him to know he is loved. He tells me he had a career as a ballet dancer, and there’s no real pension in that that will help his son. “I’m not going to get a job at my age and my skills anywhere.” And so he drives Ubers. “And I can’t stop,” he tells me. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if everything really shuts down.”
There are people truly struggling on a good day, financially, trying to fulfill their obligations and have some semblance of a healthy life with healthy relationships. You may know all too well. Will this time of coronavirus help us see one another and love one another? This is a time that should change us. Our lives may not be what we thought they were. Our sense of security may have been all off. If we are Christians, do we really trust in God alone, or have those just been words we have occasionally said in rote prayer?
For how much of our lives have we heard the saying “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”? That seems crass at a time when such a dangerous virus spreading and taking lives. But during this religious season of Lent, at the time of the change in the seasons, too, this virus that is changing the way we live for the course of weeks can also give us new life.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.