On Covid: Spiritual Lessons? by Jennifer Bell

Apr 13, 2020

I’ve been social distancing for about five years.

It’s true. I can’t deny it. With cancer came extreme homebody-ness. A mildly psychotic co-dependence in my marriage. Maybe a hyper-overprotective parenting mode. Now, told to stay home by the president, no less (!), I’m willing . . . but not completely able . . .  

“No man is an island,” the poet John Donne wrote. We gotta get out. We can’t help it. We need company. We need interaction. We need producers and sellers and movers and shakers and places to just hang. We are not self-sufficient. It’s clear as day . . .

Even I had places to go, people to see. Um, work to do.

How might we couple this with another quote? “Man does not live on bread alone.” These are Jesus’s words in Matthew 4.

What is your bread?

How are you doing without your bread, on your island? Where are you finding your solace, and how are you coping with being on the deserted island of your couch?

These are a complicated batch of questions that might be summed up with this one: What fresh hell is this?

 I don’t really know how to properly conceptualize this brave new world, so I’m going to muse aloud about lessons I’m learning and, hopefully, be joined by other writers on our blog in spiritually-framing the global pandemic.

 This is a spiritual battle, and it should be framed as one. That is Lesson Number One.

I’ve actually been tossing around quite a few questions. This goes with the territory: my writerly, OCD, high-strung, turn-everything-into-a-story plain of existence. I can’t help it. I’ve found, in my fifty years (!), this either makes me quirky and interesting in some people’s thinking, or irritating and weird in other people’s minds. Nonetheless, I’ve got questions: Why is this happening? Now? Is this apocalyptic? Is this the end of the world? Is Jesus coming? Are we just “gleaning” the population, and there will be “stragglers” who will then all turn their eyes to God in this stunning act of corporate repentance? Is this the end of America? What kind of “call to action” is this? What is the proper, godly response? What should I be teaching my children? How should we be praying?

 We often hear—and I’ve said it too—that this is the new generation’s 9/11. But, um, what if it’s even more than that? Okay, Boomer, indeed.

 Obviously, I have no answers. None.

 Lesson Number Two, though: I have felt extraordinarily blessed during this time. Even in saying that, I feel guilty too. I know that horrors abound. Too many. And here I am: okay. I’m not ill (though I always expect trouble).

 My family is gathered around.

 Tim’s job allows for mostly remote work (he’s at the office for a few hours right this minute, so I’m mildly terrified).

 I teach, and we went online at spring break.

 My kids’ school has done a truly impressive job in going remote. They’re zoom experts now, and seemingly diligent (God help the mothers of smaller kids.)

 Even though I’ve lamented LOUDLY my mom’s living arrangements (she likes to call it a “tiny home” or “casita” in my backyard, though I’d say it’s a private home addition), it’s turned out to be a lifesaver—because, let’s admit it, I’d Be Freaking Out About Her otherwise. (We social-distance, and stay in our own places.)

 I’ve got pets. They’re glorious.

 We panic-shopped—I admit it—about two-minutes before the rest of America, which essentially means the pets are fine (It’s always about them), I have two tubes of toothpaste in case we can’t brush our teeth in the new world order, and, oddly, Tim bought a lot of shredded cheese. Which will go bad, so we eat cheese at every meal. (Considering that he’s lactose-intolerant, I’m still trying to figure out this abundance of cheese).

 My toilet paper supply is finite, so I’m regularly scrounging on the internet—but I remain hopeful. (Have you been alone in the bathroom and thought, I’m going to splurge and use a whole wad?)

 None of us have a need to see a doctor regularly right now (and my heart goes out to people with cancer who are in the midst of chemotherapy—and they’ve gotta go).

 We’ve laughed a lot!

 We’ve managed to have family games.

 We’ve binge-watched stupid television shows together.

 We’ve taken family walks, and Tim and I walk together every day.

 We’ve certainly eaten family dinner together. Actually, we spend a lot of time talking about, thinking about, and executing our family dinners together.

 Tim painted my youngest kid’s bed.

 We stream church with snacks.

 We all know I own a freakin’ library!

 Is this all wrong to say? Would it help to assure you all that, once upon a time, my marriage was a disaster and, once you go through cancer, you probably expect to die of it sooner rather than later?


 My point is really this: These wild times have made me very aware of God’s protection and love. It’s rather difficult for me to say outright, without my veil of fiction, how low I’ve been, how abandoned by God I’ve felt, how close to disaster I’ve inched. I have spent quite a bit of personal time wondering why God has ever let certain things happen to me—deeply personal things that I’ve probably fictionalized. It isn’t that I’ve fully discovered why my life has been wrought with certain disasters. I’m not there yet. But I’m comforted by the belief that things happen for a reason. Lesson Number Three?

 I have felt—right now, in the midst of this—upheld. Not abandoned by God.

 So I’m okay. We are not abandoned.

 I still do not know how to simultaneously express grief for the grieving, and empathy for the suffering, and my utmost respect and love for first responders and grocery store employees and mail carriers who do what they do to keep us going. How do we temper our sense of peace in the Lord with our grief? I’m reminded of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Lesson Number Four. How do we balance our peace with mourning?

 Other Lessons abound . . .

 We are called to care for the vulnerable and the elderly. This is about valuing other humans. Lesson Number Five. This is actually one reason why I get rather angry at those choosing to defy stay-at-home mandates.

 Lesson Number Six. Racism is just wrong. We knew this, I hope—but this pandemic tests one’s understanding of the scope of racism, I think. Racism against the Chinese has raged. Hopefully, we’re on guard. I’ve had to explain what systemic racism is to my daughter, because she asked me why the coronavirus is hitting African-American communities harder. This, interestingly, comes on the heels of her current topic in remote history. She just read in her class about how reservations were created for Native Americans—which essentially set up Native Americans for eons of poverty. Now, connections are being made between how we value one another and how a pandemic rages.

 Additionally, this pandemic forces an acute question: how do you want to go down? It’s downright dramatic and even terrifying—but here we are. Sadly, I’ve been confronted  with this before—and it inspired my cancer book. I did not expect to be confronted with it again. I will say that it’s been different this time. As with last time, I’ve also kicked into high-gear on the mother-front; previously, though, I wrote like a fiend. It was only my life at stake. This time, all of us in jeopardy, I’m a tad stymied on the writing front. I don’t fully have an answer as to why this is so—I will say that I think a lot about this question, though: how do you want to go down? Lesson Number Seven is that we are confronted with the critical question about what kind of person we want to be.

 There’s this other really warped part of me (I’m probably letting my crazy show) that has watched this whole thing and been, well, awestruck by the depth and breadth of the pandemic. You know that scene in The Hunger Games when everyone does that respect/salute sign to Katniss? I’m, like, Wow! Would you look at this? Here’s a way to really get our attention! And it’s not discriminating. It makes a joke of nationalism, partisan politics, economic disparity, any kind of inequality.

 And I’m blown away. I’m doing the Katniss Salute!

 I know there’s a lot of talk, perhaps very justified, that the signs of a coming pandemic were ignored. I don’t dismiss this. I will say that I didn’t see it coming. Not that I would . . . but it does seem intriguing that this pandemic is not what we’ve all been talking about. It’s not nuclear war. It’s not a Cold War. It’s not terrorism. It’s not Putin.

 Did you see it coming? What does this say?

 Lesson Number Eight: We’re Just So Finite!

 These are my lessons.

 We were all excited about my daughter’s school trip to Washington D.C. She’s not going.

 I just had a new book come out in January. Did this essentially render it a flop? I don’t know, but I’ve felt like doing any ongoing promo would be in poor taste.

I’m wondering how long we can do this financially. I’m wondering about my kids’ school. I’m wondering about health. I’m wondering about my in-laws in Massachusetts. I’m wondering about my single friends and a couple of unresolved battles and I was in the middle of a job hunt when this went down and I have a few friends holed up in apartments in New York and this alienation affects Tim more than it affects me, but . . .

 All the same, here we are. I’m okay.

 Is this politics aside? Am I neglecting politics? Are there no lessons to derive from the politics that have gone into this hot, hot mess? Of course, I have political opinions—and many of them are exactly what you might expect from me. I can assure you that I’m keenly interested in the rigmarole surrounding state and federal distribution of equipment and masks, who knew what when, how to manage treatment, whether we should be staying home or congregating in houses of worship. . . However, I wholeheartedly believe that we need to rise above an Us vs. Them perspective. I think there is a time for political play, but this isn’t it.

 We’re in this together. Please make this Lesson Number Nine.

 I would love to hear how others are framing this, dealing with it. Are you despairing? Do you have hope? Where does your hope reside?


Snickers, Covid Superstar

Snickers, Covid Superstar