(A shortened version of this essay appeared in County Life on April 16, 2020.)
I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to run out of toilet paper.
It seems absurd to read it that way, but that was the conversation I had with a friend three days before they closed the school where we work. The conversation initially started over grocery shopping. It was a Wednesday. I was planning on shopping on Friday after my husband got paid. When another friend mentioned the frenzy in the stores, I asked if she thought I could wait until Friday. She said no. I went to the store that day and bought toilet paper.
In the conversation with the first friend, she said that she hadn’t been freaking out until the people around her started freaking out. I told her as far as I was concerned, the worst that could happen would be that I die. My faith rests secure in the fact that I know I’m going to heaven when I die. So the worst that can happen is not the worst. After I dismissed my fear of death, the only other fears were the discomfort of getting sick, the grief of a loved one getting sick, and the inconvenience of not having the usual and not-so-usual supplies at hand. Suddenly, toilet paper didn’t seem like such a big deal.
We are a few weeks into this unique time of isolationism due to the Covid-19 pandemic. My high school aged daughter has settled into facilitated distance learning well. (She misses our days of homeschooling.) One of my sons is finishing off his freshman year of art college at home. He said he forgot how comfortable his own bed is. My oldest son cut back his hours at the pizza place where he works. He’s helping me clean up the yard. As a high school science teacher responsible for three different classes, my husband is riding the learning curve of teaching from home. And me? As a substitute teacher, I found myself abruptly out of work.
Maybe some people find themselves at a loss when their job is no longer their job. When subbing came to a halt, I didn’t suffer an identity crisis. I settled into my roles as wife, mother, writer. Although these have long been my life’s callings, they have been overshadowed by the income-generating job of substitute teacher. Now I can focus on my family and my writing.
Since I knew that the absence of a routine could lead at best to zero productivity and, at worst, to depression, I wrote myself a generic daily schedule right away:
- Read Scripture/journal/ pray
- Eat breakfast
- Housework and/or yard work
- 5pm Clean up and prep dinner
- 6pm dinner with family
It seems simple, but it has been a tremendous tool to help me remember my priorities. Of course, I’m also Zooming and Marco Poloing with everyone else. (We may be distant physically, but we are not social distancing, people! Quite the contrary.) The only things I have definite times for are clean up and dinner time. Whatever I am doing in the afternoon, I stop at 5pm so I can get dinner ready. To me, it is a unique blessing at this time to have all five of us home every night for dinner. There’s nowhere else to go! We have this gift every night. I try to make the most of it. No electronics, no talk of the news at the dinner table. Just time together. Love and hopefully some laughter, too.
The main thing for me–especially in our present situation when the media is full of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety– is leaning into faith. I start my day with Scripture. Those are the first words I ingest, and I let them fill my soul. They speak of hope that doesn’t disappoint and peace that passes understanding. Who couldn’t use some of those right now? Through this practice, I begin my day with joy. With the airwaves full of darkness, I sometimes wonder if I’m living in the same world as everyone else. I may have a different perspective if/when my family becomes impacted by the pandemic in a more significant way, but I would hope that this faith I’ve been nurturing would only grow stronger.
Not everyone leans into the same belief system, but with fear at the opposite end of the faith spectrum, don’t we owe it to ourselves to find–or perhaps rediscover–our faith? At the very least, keep a gratitude journal. Especially now. When you feel anxious, count a blessing. Write it down. Even if it’s something simple like the warmth of the coffee cup in your hand. Make a list. See how high you can go, and then keep going. Gratitude and fear can’t occupy the same space.
Fear not. Lean in. Give thanks.