Quarantine

The decision came two weeks ago that my company “should work from home if you can.” We packed materials we expected to need in the next month. Desks had already been emptying; I washed my tea mug and took my food from the communal fridge. We all left for the evening with a “See you when I see you,” a sentiment that reminded me far too much of leaving previous jobs.

We worked from home for one day before I had to go into the office. There was one package we couldn’t reroute, and we needed it. So I braved the elements that Friday morning, walking from Penn Station to my office in the rain. Outside, people wheezed behind N95 masks; electronics ads told me to wash my hands for 20 seconds with soap. Even the office was dark, mostly abandoned, with a neglected flickering light in the corner. The communal fridge was still packed with milk, as if everyone would be arriving for their morning coffee.

I wanted to go home. But when the following week came, and the office officially closed down, I wanted to go back. I’d developed a cough, probably related to seasonal allergies, but checked my temperature anyway (it was always normal). I couldn’t take a deep breath, but I’d been having trouble doing that the past few months, anyway. I knew it was anxiety-driven, but it still made me dizzy and irritable. I alternated between yelling and crying. I was stressed over work that I could normally think about logically.

I had to calm down.

I haven’t, really; I’m just too tired anymore. I can’t go to CVS without people glaring at me; I picked up lunch, and the paper bag was handed to me by a woman in surgical gloves. While searching emails, I find things that occurred while I was still in the city, life divided between pre– and post–distancing.

But in the midst, we still reach out to others. Parishes are effectively closed, but we have Livestream and virtual prayer time; concerts have been canceled, but musicians offer free performances online. I want to complain about working from home, but limit the time I even talk about it online. Because we’re all doing it, and highlighting the bad only makes it worse. Instead I share my baking and prayers; I encourage others who are doing the same, making the most of a terrible situation. It’s not easy. I’m not exactly being positive, but I’m trying not to spread negativity like… well, a virus.

It’s a hard time for us all. But last week I prayed the rosary along with a Livestream from the Vatican, with countless others around the world. Their prayers were in Italian, which I began to mostly understand, and I replied in English. It’s strange to feel completely separated, but know we’re all together. There’s no telling how long this will last. Some say weeks, but some say months. I say I can’t do it, but I have to. I’ll keep to my usual schedule. I’ll exercise daily. I’ll do my reading, talk to God, and appreciate others’ good efforts. I’ll do my best.

On Temptation

During the first week of Lent, “temptation” was the recurring theme. It was in everything. In the week’s Gospel and the Little Black Book reading, and in the start of abstaining from sweets for the season. It appeared in my reading of Fr. Martin’s Jesus book, and at a social event featuring frost-your-own-cupcakes. I never saw myself as one to succumb to temptation, so it wasn’t something I’d really thought about before. But maybe that means I do.

I’m starting to understand that temptation isn’t merely resistance. It’s more than resisting to tell a little white lie, and more than choosing fruit over my favorite sugar cookies (but those cookies are really good). These are relatively easy to overcome, so there’s a sense of satisfaction when you don’t eat that cookie. It’s a little prideful, no? But temptation lies in your thoughts, too. These can be ungodly things that become habit, until they don’t register as a “temptation” anymore. Like believing you “can’t” do something, even though all things are possible with God. Like believing you’re ugly, even though we are made in His image. The real temptation is not believing the lies about yourself, and there’s where I succumb all the time.

I’ve never been great in the self-esteem department, and Satan knows that. He knows just the thing that’ll switch my mood from “good” to “everything is terrible.” It’s not just tempting to feel sorry for yourself—it’s often easier. You don’t have to do anything, besides whine. It’s tempting to talk yourself out of responsibility, because nothing matters, anyway. Sent a typo in an important email? You’re stupid. Try on a pair of poorly-cut pants? You’re fat. What’s the point?

The point is, you’re being ridiculous. None of that is true. The temptation is to wallow in self-pity and never ask God’s forgiveness, but I guarantee that’s not how He wants you to live.

I heard the recollection of Jesus’s 40 days in the desert several times during the week. There was one thing I never understood—the temptations of Satan. Sure, Jesus was human and experienced human things, but couldn’t he still ignore the devil? The way the story is told doesn’t help, either, like this is merely friendly banter between friends. But those temptations are more than we can see. Jesus was the only one there, so we know only what he wants us to know. I imagine the actual experience was worse. Just like our temptations are more than just resisting cupcakes.

I keep on picking on food, but that’s a real struggle, too. Look at Satan’s first temptation: it’s food. I get hungry after four hours, so I can’t imagine fasting for forty days. Jesus is hungry, and Satan is like, “You know, you can turn those rocks into food.” Duh, Jesus. But he doesn’t. Our sustenance is more than just food. It’s God. I’m starting to learn that I won’t pass out if I’m hungry, because Jesus sustains me. He supports me. As much as I’d like to live on bread alone (I love bread), I can’t. Nor do I want to.

Temptation is always going to be there. But if you don’t eat cookies for a while, you don’t have that craving for cookies. I have apply that to my emotional health, too. “Look on the bright side.” I made a typo in an email, but we all make mistakes (maybe the recipient didn’t even notice). Those new pants look terrible, but the cut isn’t suited to my body type. Sometimes it’s hard to be positive. But the more you avoid the temptation of self-pity, the easier it is to overcome it. There will be sad days, but you pick yourself back up. Light spreads easier than darkness, like noticing that first streak of sunlight after a days-long rain.

Maybe that’s something else to give up during Lent—that negativity. The temptation to see everything as terrible. Because that’s definitely not true.

The Newest Columbiette

Months ago, I spied a callout in the church bulletin for the Columbiettes. I didn’t live in the area at the time, so it didn’t make much sense to express interest. There was an auxiliary closer to home, but I didn’t want to commit to an area I didn’t see as permanent.

I knew little about the Knights of Columbus, only that my staunchest liberal friends didn’t like them. But when I did my own research, I found nothing amiss. When the Knights attended Mass in their emblazoned blazers, they were figures of respect. I attended every pancake breakfast or BBQ they hosted. And I nearly forgot about the ladies’ auxiliaries until I moved back “North.” (that is, Jersey.) So naturally, I contacted the Columbiettes as soon as I spied that bulletin callout again. They were more than happy to hear from me—I received an invitation next day for installation.

I expected some kind of info session, or FAQ, or something, but the day before installation I realized what exactly was happening. I had my membership form and dues; I was on an email chain about a members-only portion of a day that was much longer than the couple hours I’d originally planned for. This was no meet-and-greet. This was installation, and I was about to pledge myself to the Knights. Or, their female counterpart.

Not that there was any doubt I would, but I didn’t expect to meet my fellow Columbiettes the day of installation. There were a lot of people, and many who already knew each other. I’m not great at introducing myself, and get shy around new people. So the whole day was more of an introspection for me, while everyone else chatted and marveled. The ceremony wasn’t too much of a surprise for me; from the start it felt like a fraternity initiation, of which I’m a sister of two. (It’s allowed.) So I’d done this before. I knew the basics of what to expect in a ceremony. And though most college fraternities have some sort of religious foundation, it’s nothing like becoming a member of an actual religious fraternal organization.

Looking back on it now, it reminded me of joining the Church as a whole. Before committing myself to Catholicism, something was missing in my religious life that was later fulfilled in the Church. I felt something similar going through the First Degree ceremony. My other fraternities are great. I’m still highly active in one of them. But by including Jesus, and the promise to live by the Commandments of God and the Church, the ceremony was complete. Secular institutions continue to cut out God, to water down words and morality. But in doing that, they take away the very meaning of life. It feels nice, but it isn’t right. Pledging myself to God, just as I had done in Confirmation, brought meaning to everything I was experiencing that day.

So now I’m a Columbiette. Not only that, but this was also the formation of a new auxiliary, so I’m a charter member as well. It almost feels like cheating, because I didn’t do anything in the start-up. I just showed up, without any introduction, and without doing any of the work.

But I’ll make up for that now. It’s a new group, so there’s a lot to create and figure out. I’ll get involved in my new community, and help those in need. We have our first meeting next week, and an upcoming meet-and-greet with the Knights. I’ll show up to our events, and those of our brother Knights, wearing my badge with pride.