I am inspired to today to write a story, a corona virus story. My corona virus story, so far. Thanks to Karla Sullivan for the inspiration and prodding necessary to jump start that inspiration. I take my cue from her article on National Stress Month.
Fitting, right? She thought so, and so do I. We are in week four (or is it five?) of sheltering at home in Illinois, sequestering ourselves away from the viral outbreak that creeps like exponential statistics across the globe, a hidden threat that remains as a much a mystery as God.
Not that we don’t know a lot about it by now. We have clues to its origin. We certainly know the effects it has on people, some mild and annoying, some deadly and terrifying.
This novel virus emerges into a world filled with fake news, conspiracy theories, short presidential tirades (tweets) and unrelenting social media. It’s April, and we’ve had inches of snow twice in the last several days. People are talking apocalyptic (a little less tongue in cheek than usual).
Most of my story is internal, the thoughts (and recently feelings) of living through a worldwide pandemic in what seems like quasi-apocryphal social isolation.
My days are spent going to the office, which is closed to the public. I don’t even bother turning the lights on most days, not even in my own office which has a window that let ample ambient light in to see what I need to see. My desk is cluttered with notes and documents and supports two computer monitors reflecting the world back to me.
I am working, but mostly I am writing, thinking, searching the world wide web for clues to the viral mystery and the meaning and purpose for life. Unseen viruses have a way of causing reflection on an unseen God.
Not that I haven’t spent untold hours in my life reflecting on the unseen Creator, maker of all that is seen and unseen. I began journeying through the Bible chronologically on the first day of January, 2020, just days after the discovery the novel corona virus that now demands the entire world’s attention. I knew nothing of it when I started in Genesis 1, but it dominates my mental landscape as I venture through 1 Samuel and 1 Chronicles one hundred days later, following the footsteps of David. Now soon to be king.
The virus has given me more time to think, read and write, which is my way of engaging with God in my life. And with others, which I do virtually now more than ever before out of the present necessity.
Social media is a bane and a blessing. That it spreads faster than a corona virus is also blessing and curse. That fake news tends to travel faster than the real thing, and knee jerk reactions always beat thoughtful consideration to the punch, puts a circumspect person always on guard. It’s hard to know what is what. Increasingly, we live in a world in which skepticism is a necessary first response.
I wonder what psychological toll that takes.
I am the senior partner in a small law firm in the western suburbs of the City of Chicago. I am doing mainly wills and trusts and powers of attorney these days as people wrestle with their mortality and find themselves presently motivated to do the things they have been putting off. Most of my contact with people is remote – keeping appropriate social distance – by phone, email and Zoom conference.
I am preparing to orchestrate my first attempt at a remote signing, witnessing and notarizing of documents, courtesy of Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order. I am not even sure he has the constitutional or statutory authority to suspend the rules this way. Such is my practice now, as expediency demands a response.
My contact with the outside world (other than the monitors that bring the world to me on my desk) is through the staff of the municipalities that I represent, providing what guidance I can to navigate local governmental processes in a stay-at-home world. And my wife, who spends part of her days packaging food at a local food pantry that is struggling to keep up with increased demand and fewer volunteers and the rest of her days and nights at the County’s emergency management command post sorting personal protection devices, parsing them out to local agency’s and wondering what else needs to be done to stave off local disaster, provides me another perspective.
Yesterday I felt the first emotional impact of the viral epidemic. As a small business owner, our little office is like family. We have kept everyone employed, working from home, while the demands for our legal services have tapered off to something slightly more than a trickle. We have been counting on the billions of dollars approved in the Paycheck Protection Program legislation, but yesterday we learned the money has run out.
I watch as one friend after another reports on a private Facebook page for local business owners that their bank has given them the bad news. The funds are gone.
It’s only been two weeks, and most banks weren’t anything close to ready to deal with the virtual onslaught of online applications. We submitted our applications to three different banks. Only one of them has been responsive, but their online process has been overwhelmed. We have had to submit and resubmit multiple times the application, the forms that needed to be signed. We still aren’t finished, but the money is already gone.
Last night the weight of it hit me. We have only twelve employees, but that’s twelve families that count on us for some portion or all of the income for their households. We can’t carry them another month without borrowing money. How many years will this set us back? What if the shut down lasts more than another month? The impact of that thought hit me doubly hard as my wife disclosed what the emergency management folks were thinking – we may be several months away from government gatekeepers giving the all clear.
I mostly try not to think about the consequences, but they gnaw at me.
I fill in the times in between supporting local and touring music artists who are panhandling by live stream for “tips” to put food on their tables. The concert halls are shuttered, including the local venue I am involved with as a nonprofit board member. Music is a much-needed salve in these socially isolated times. Like David’s lyre playing for an increasingly paranoid King Saul, we need it if only for the momentary solace.
Games of Catan online with my children scattered as near as thirty minutes away to Milwaukee, Kansas City and Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, consumes hours in the evening, reminding me of the extremely strong competitive streak that is in my DNA. I touch base with them periodically by phone, taking their emotional temperatures, trying to stay on top of what little is going on in their lives, wishing for more personal contact. We haven’t seen our grandson in well over a month.
My daughter lives in a house with three other college students, one of which has tested positive for COVID-19. My son just called to say he thinks he and his brother have the symptoms. I have been waiting on him to speak with a physician… and for the other shoe to drop. Or not. (I tell myself the odds are against them having it.)
I have been poised for it for weeks, careful not to let a rush of emotion in. Another form of isolation.
I have to be strong for them.
Most of my extended social contact comes courtesy of social media. I have learned to “snooze” the people who are so unsure that others know where they stand on Donald Trump that they post like religious zealots on the subject. I’m over it. They will be “back” in 30 days (so my snooze button instructions tell me).
I have gotten an unprecedented number of new “friend” requests. I’ve mostly given up any sense of selectivity. I accept most of them if I see any sort of connection. I am not very discriminating when it comes to the people I connect with. They span any spectrum one might imagine – not much of an echo chamber in my social media world.
It can be challenging, but it’s also a necessary evil, I think. It’s too easy to close the doors to the outside world, locked into our own whitewashed and sequestered intellectual rooms. The nauseating drops and climbs of the emotional roller coaster is counteracted by the perspective it brings. I am secure enough in where I (think) I stand that I can allow myself to consider people that stand opposed to me and engage them. We are all fellow journeyers in this momentary existence in the yawning expense of time and space.
I do believe in an unseen God as I believe in unseen viruses. The world doesn’t fit into neat boxes. Relativity, quantum physics and quantum mechanics dispelled those notions at the level of science going back to the early 20th century. How God and viruses (most of which are beneficial and even necessary for life) fit together is as much a mystery as the way Newtonian physics and quantum physics can both exist in the same universe at the same time.
Such is my daily life in a world spinning out of this semblance of control we have achieved in the 20th Century confronted suddenly by a worldwide pandemic. I am holding on. Just holding on. I am less hopeful today than I have been. Today, I am just holding on.