Love in the Time of Covid: My Old Wounds by Jennifer Bell

May 1, 2020


I’m inclined to be, well, “forthright” with my opinion? 

Politically astute?

Wildly didactic?

Out-and-out pompous?



Arizona Governor Doug Ducey just extended the Stay-at-Home orders till May 15 (with modifications that I don’t fully get). When I heard it from our very own bookshelf town-crier (my mom), I was relieved that we’d all be locked in the house for a few more weeks. Tim was not.

It had been building over the last few days, our past scars enflamed, my old wounds flaring.

I’m talking about my political hurts. In the last month, our conversations have turned to politics. We aren’t heated. We learned some things since 2016 (in which I famously said to my husband, “If you vote for Trump, you will break my heart . . . ,” and it worked because he didn’t vote for Trump!). I’ve tried hard (so hard!) to not approach this global pandemic with any partisan animosities (and I know that my 2016 heartbreaking currency ain’t gonna hold up this time), but somehow or other, we are—by nature—political beings. Humans are necessarily political. It gets partisan.

At first, Tim and I grew a tad tense over my TV news choices and to what we might be exposing our kids. I seemed to have this special relationship going with Poppy Harlow, Sanjay Gupta, and the saga of Chris Cuomo in his basement. Tim wasn’t exactly heading over to FOX, but he was eager to point out weaknesses in my preferences. This morphed into a Battle of Wits, as we became name-droppers, Fauci-aficionados, FDA and CDC and WHO and BBC followers. Partisanship is hard to avoid, let me tell you.

I’m totally exaggerating a lot of this. We discuss politics, and both of us work hard not to get crazy. (Though he will still break my heart if he votes for Trump.) Nonetheless, we’ve survived bigger and better battles.

But back to the issue. Which I actually haven’t said yet. With my old wounds opening and these Stay-At-Home orders extending, the issue is before us: Where do we stand on this government mandate? Here we are, Christians, citizens, Americans. What do you think? Should we get back into the pews, return to our favorite restaurants, open the country? What, exactly, is our relationship with local and national government?

As I mentioned earlier, I was relieved with the extension. Tim was not.

I mean, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I haven’t been unhappy. I’m a social-distancing pro, and I’ve savored my time with the kids, because I sense the beginnings of teen angst and how close we near that time when they’ll pull away forever. For a while, the weather has been beautiful and, even though our noses have been running incessantly which made me think one of us—probably me—had covid-19, Tim and I were regularly taking lovely walks with the desert blooming and actual bunnies scattered along trails. It’s been idyllic. And outings to the grocery-store have been adventures—tainted with apocalyptic strategies, feeding dystopian fantasies. In preliminary meetings, we’d map out Fry’s; we’d ambush Trader Joe’s. Our search for Greek Yogurt and Half ‘n’ Half have been quests for Holy Grails in the dairy aisle. We are Maze Runners. This is the real Hunger Games. And—you know what?—it’s been a little fun. Our new schedules, in which I get to spend all day every day with my favorite people, allow for—can you believe it?—an extra hour of sleep every night! In a special twist of fate, Tim got hyped up over making dinner! Suddenly, he’s all gourmet, and we eat Indian and burritos and my kids are more into fruit than they’ve ever been! There’s more time for me to revel in pets while deep-diving into the fake news I love so much!

 However, things quickly changed . . .

A relative got Covid (he recovered). A second one has it now. Another relative with Parkinson’s, in a nursing home back east, hasn’t been allowed to have visitors (including his wife) for something like six or seven weeks. A friend’s doctor-husband was hospitalized in Boston when he had chest pains that seemed to be a heart attack, but weren’t. I’ve heard of a couple people on ventilators and the death of my father-in-law’s colleague. One student reported that his sister has coronavirus. I have a record number of students who are MIA since we went remote, including a straight “A” student from Seattle. My friend’s brother took a pay-cut to keep his job, as did another friend’s spouse.

Tim’s work is okay, but no matter how in-your-face I get with him about counting his blessings and being content and treasuring his time with our supremely antsy kids, he’s tired of this. He’s ready to go back. He’d wear a freakin’ mask. He’d wash his hands. He’d maintain a safe distance. But, man oh man, he wants to get out of here.

 Plus, it’s getting hot. Our little nature walks now seem like biblical desert wanderings, and—suddenly—I’m hyper aware of my frizzed-out hair, and the way I haven’t worn make-up in eons, and Tim says he’d defy orders in a heartbeat to get a haircut.

Plus, the protestors, the disdain, the systemic racism, the loss of jobs, some of my favorite places unable to stay in business. . .

We want our lives back!

This week, over zoom, I was asked if I would attend church if we were to meet in May (this was before Ducey said anything). Zoom is not exactly my safe-space. It’s a wild card opportunity for me. I might say something crazy.

This time, I said, No, I’m not planning on attending church through May.

And then I geared up for my no-nonsense, you-know-I’m-right edict/declaration.

It’s unfortunate that this has been framed as a civil liberties issue.  This is not about our rights or freedoms. We have not been asked to stop worshipping God. Framing this as a battleground between government authority and individual rights has created unnecessary disunity, weird hostilities, stagnation in finding workable solutions, and it’s put stumbling blocks in Trump’s way that the guy doesn’t need. First, he’s defensive and finds himself issuing Napoleonic dictates (what he says goes). Next, he’s giving governors all authority which has put some mayors in power-struggles with governors. (I don’t know if I actually said this or just thought this.) Basically, civil liberties are not jeopardized.  

I’m not letting my kids out of the house till it’s boiling hot outside.

I’ve got an old mom behind the bookshelf.

I have no clue if my immune system is still compromised post-cancer, but I’m pretty committed to surviving my kids’ childhood.

It’s brutal—I used the word brutal—to dismiss the welfare of vulnerable populations.

 We should love our neighbors as ourselves.

That’s it. Staying-Home-For-Sure.

Then . . . then . . . then . . . others offered their opinions: Opposite opinions!

Individuals had choices. It was a matter of personal responsibility. The vulnerable are responsible, as well. And there are flesh-and-blood people out there who need to feed their families. People are suffering.

Wait. Who’s right? Surely, one of us is right.

Which means: One of us is wrong.

Might I feel very differently about this if I were out of a job? I might . . .

While I was tossing the rightness and wrongness around in my head, Pastor Vermon said that we didn’t want to suggest that there is only one Christian response to this. We didn’t want to bind each other’s conscience. . .

We didn’t want to bind each other’s conscience. . .

I know it sounds crazy, but this hit me hard!

I confess that I grew up in a church atmosphere in which consciences were regularly bound. There were right ways, and there were wrong ways. And dogmatism was the way to go. Binding the conscience was not all that foreign to me.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, I remember hearing in so many words.

This has bled into many, many aspects of my life.

And here we are, Global Pandemic Raging, and I am confronted with my old, old hurts: are my dictates mere preferences, my rules but suggestions?

If I say there’s one way to respond to this, can you still say there’s another way?

And, maybe, just maybe, I’ll need to ponder this further after this diseased era passes.

Maybe I need to think more about not binding consciences in an election year.