There have been a few moments in recent weeks when the new reality of the coronavirus epidemic hit me in special ways.
One of them was when Amazon put books on the bottom of its priority list. Bookish type that I am, that is what Amazon is for me: books. And I’ve rediscovered the bookstores and distributors I used to rely on before Amazon made things so simple. I’m thinking I really shouldn’t go back. Aren’t we all having a renewed appreciation for the smaller businesses in our lives and the people behind them?
Of course, there have been more serious moments, like when I realized I’d have to go into isolation because of likely direct exposure to the virus. It isn’t really an introvert’s dream when solitude’s dished out with all the anxieties of the moment. But all these realizations come with tremendous gratitude.
Surprisingly, though, I was most rattled when I read about a cruise ship full of people who are not deboarding anytime soon. The name of the boat sounded remarkably familiar — Holland America’s Zaandam. I was on it less than a year ago, for a fundraising cruise for my employer, National Review.
Besides a lovely trip, it was a great chance to mingle and talk with the magazine’s readers and writers. It was truly a privilege.
This Saint Joseph’s day, March 19, I couldn’t go to Mass — a reality that is so foreign to me, as someone who normally gets to go to Mass daily, wherever I am traveling — but I was brought back in prayer to my visit to the Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, right before getting onto the Zaandam for the National Review cruise. The Montreal church is a veritable fortress of prayer. It wraps you in a warm parental love, and imparts a confidence about trusting in the love of God, who will not abandon us.
Is there a message that could be more helpful right now, as we look for hope beyond this moment and want to believe that there is a purpose to the suffering the people on the frontlines of this plague are experiencing?
Once we got on the Zaandam, we stopped in Quebec City, which had me tripping over the graves of saints I had encountered at a conference not so long ago on the rich Catholic faith of the Americas, the fruits of missionary labors. Quebec City is like nothing I’ve ever experienced outside of Europe. I don’t know how devout it remains, but it is certainly impossible to miss its Christian heritage.
Anyway, as all of these memories flooded in, I prayed that for the people on the Zaandam now. I thought of the long-suffering staff on the boat — they are some of the hardest, most self-sacrificial workers on those boats, devoted to their families, living in what are far from luxurious sleeping quarters during these months-long assignments.
This is all to say: This time, for so many of us, having to “shelter in place,” which means a severe isolation for some, really ought to be a time for reflection about who we are and who we want to be.
Are we self-pitying in our inability to have things the way we like? Or are we growing in gratitude for the blessings we’ve had and have in our lives?
Are we reaching out to others, taking all the precautions called for, or are we turning inward?
And if we are people who believe in something more, what are we doing about that?
Are we getting to know God better and what He wants for us?
Because when this crisis passes, we want to be living differently, don’t we? As people renewed in hope and gratitude for the gift of life?
And as we experience suffering and death, even from afar, we must always want to be beacons of love.
America could use some more saints, after all.