Flatten the Curve

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s what people put their faith in.

I’ll admit to being fearful in the beginning. I don’t do well with the unknown, and the virus was a worldwide unknown. I actively touched nothing on the train. I wore gloves to shop that I immediately threw away. Whenever I went outside, I’d anxiously wait two weeks to see if I had symptoms. We didn’t know what to expect.

Over time, I went outside. I saw other people. I ate at restaurants and crossed state lines. “Flatten the curve!” they cried, and joyously watched the numbers go down. But people were still getting tested every time they stepped outside. More and more companies were producing masks. “Flatten the curve” became “not until a vaccine.” That’s when I realized that none of this would ever be good enough. It’s not enough for numbers to go down. It had to be eradicated, and then the world would be safe. Then, there would be faith.

There’s faith in a mask, which prevents the spread.
There’s faith in COVID tests, to ensure they haven’t caught it (often multiple times).
There’s faith in politicians, who preach promises of health and safety.
There’s faith in a vaccine, which makes the virus go away.

None of these are completely trustworthy. And what happens when there is a vaccine, but there aren’t enough to go around? Or when people can’t/won’t get the shot?

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”
—Psalm 118:8

I have no faith that a mask protects me from anything. I haven’t received a COVID test, because I never showed symptoms. (“What if you’re asymptomatic??!” Who cares?) I don’t listen to the news, and I won’t get a vaccine. I don’t have faith in any of this. I have even less faith in the people in charge, who reopen the country step-by-step like that’s supposed to protect us. They’re not protecting us. Staying cooped up indoors and wrapping your face in fabric is detrimental to your physical and mental health. I don’t need a doctor/scientist/”expert” to tell me that.

I have faith in God. He is the only constant, unchanging, compassionate One. Not to belittle Him, but it’s also easier. Life is full of scary unknowns. This isn’t the first time I’ve sat at home by myself, wondering what’s going to happen. It’s scary to move to a new town, cope with an ailing relative, or convert to Catholicism. But life doesn’t stop because I’m afraid. I lean on His wisdom and guidance to keep going. I won’t say I’m never fearful, because sometimes I am. But you can’t shut everything down.

But that’s what we’re doing. We’re shutting everything down to be careful. We’re past being careful. We’re steeped in this endless fear, because there will always be something else that needs to be done to feel safe. That’s no way to live. Don’t put your faith in manmade materials or ever-changing rules and regulations. Everything’s not going to be okay once a vaccine exists, just like everything wasn’t okay when we flattened the curve. These aren’t the things we’re meant to put our faith in.

Desires

I had this question posed to me months ago and have been mulling over it since: What do you really desire to do? I’m not talking “big picture,” though that’s a valid question, too. I mean the day-to-day. I mean when you end up sitting on the couch playing a mobile game for an hour. Or when Netflix asks if you’re still there during a series marathon. These are things we end up doing, but is that truly our desire?

There are plenty of things I desire to do: read more books, shut down electronics at night, spend time in prayer. So why don’t I do it? It’s not just laziness. I don’t want to be a sloth, even though that sometimes happens, and it’s often not intentional. But in not doing anything, I’m also acting on a desire—one that’s easier to fulfill. Not doing is as much a desire as doing. Picking up a book is acting on a desire, but so is not picking up that same book. Lately, despite the desire to do, I’m aware of acting more upon the desire to not do. Once you start sliding, that’s a tough hill to climb back up.

The question is, “Why?” It can’t just be human nature. It’s true that we naturally rebel against goodness, but there are also sparks of inspiration. It’s why we reach out to God, even when we don’t know we’re reaching to Him. It’s why we’re inspired to read that book, or say the rosary before bed. But desire doesn’t always lead to the act. I have rosary beads all around the apartment. I have books at my bedside, on my desk, and on the couch. The desire is there, but I often can’t follow through.

“I stretch out my hands to thee; my soul thirsts for thee like a parched land.”
—Psalm 143:6

I feel God knocking on the door. “Just let Me in,” He seems to say, but I don’t answer. It’s a constant inner struggle. I fear He’ll reprimand me or, perhaps worse, ask me to do something. Devotion is a nice idea, and maybe I’ll do it later. But I’m also tired of putting things off. I’m behind on my reading for the year, even though I’ve been working from home for most of it. What have I been doing with that time, if not reading, praying, or even cleaning the apartment? Why is the desire to do nothing so overpowering?

At least I’m aware that He’s knocking. When I’ve been stagnant too long, I examine what I’ve been doing for the past hour. Is it productive? Is it really what I desire to be doing? The answer is usually “no.” Sometimes, that’s motivation enough to start praying or read a book. (Those don’t even require getting up!) Even at rest, we’re to be connected to God. That’s the whole purpose of the Sabbath, after all, so I’m not just talking about doing things. Be a slothful lump, or rest in the presence of God? It should be an easy choice, but sometimes it’s not. But being more aware has helped. “Is this what you truly desire to be doing?” If not… get up, and do something else.

No Mask, No Service

It was a long journey through the desert (that is, “quarantine”) before we could return to Mass. I almost didn’t believe it when I received the email—it had been three months, a span that seems like nothing in retrospect, but also a time we barely remember happening. Real, live, public Mass had returned, though it was different than we were used to.

I jumped at the chance to get back, but some didn’t share my enthusiasm. I get it—many parishioners are older or have families, and what kid is going to sit still in a mask for an hour? I thought it would be strange returning to church after so long without, but it wasn’t. I’d seen everyone on livestream, even if they hadn’t seen me, so I forgot it had been months since our last conversation. The pews and the altar looked the same, though now with the lingering scent of disinfectant. We were told where to sit—six feet away from other church-goers—a request that wasn’t well-received with some who are used to their “usual” seat. It was an adjustment, but it was okay. It meant we were coming home; we could finally receive the Eucharist again, and I cried a little like I did those first few times after Confirmation.

Once before Mass, a couple police officers came in. I wasn’t paying too much attention, and I don’t think they were checking the place out, but it made me think. I thought of countries where Christian worship is forbidden. I thought of other religions that can’t worship openly. And I knew that worship services were being scrutinized; maybe they still are. I do know that we’re following the rules best we can.

I volunteered to be a church monitor. It’s like a socially-distant usher, leading people to the pews and reminding them to keep masks on. I’m honestly terrible at it. I don’t know why I always volunteer for things that require confrontation. It’s unlikely that any of the monitors particularly like it. It’s hard, and some people are unintentionally difficult (I have my favorite pew, too). But we’re doing this so we can be there.

If we childishly whine about it—even if that’s how I feel on the inside—we’ll make no progress. There are plenty of people who are whining, and their refusal to listen is causing the rest of us to sweat in masks during the hottest months of the year. I want to go back to church. I want to attend “coffee and community” afterward, trying to find the jelly Munchkins amid the boxes scattered around the room. I hate the phrase “new normal;” I want real normal. One day we’ll be there again. In the meantime, I’ll try to be confrontational and ask the man who never covers his nose to please put his mask back on.