On April Fool’s Day, a friend discovered empty toilet paper rolls in her bathrooms, the cardboard tubes covered with the words “Ha, Ha, Ha.”
She searched for the precious paper while trying to maintain a sense of humor. After all, little kids held hostage to a virus need some fun.
As I write this, it’s early April, but it already feels different than March, just as March brought a reality unthinkable in February.
Remember February? I spent time in coffee shops with good friends. I’m so grateful for those memories.
On February 17, I welcomed the first of ten days of guests. A recruiter from Jesuit Volunteer Corps: Northwest was visiting Creighton University and needed a bed for a night. We opened a bottle of wine and had a long dinner. After she left the next day, six family members began arriving from different locales.
In all, my guests traveled through at least seven different airports, including Seattle, and my recruiter friend probably hit a few more. I, who can check the box on every worry, saw no reason then for concern. Thank God for the good memories.
Fear arrived in March. My husband and I were to leave for Greece on St. Patrick’s Day, and the virus was popping up there. We were given assurances, and in early March, amazingly, the trip was still on.
My Jesuit parish hosted the annual novena to St. Francis Xavier March 4-12. We gathered each evening in a dimly-lit church to pray and hear talks on social justice. Afterward, we chatted in the social hall. As the days wore on, the conversation was increasingly shadowed by fear. The last night, the speaker had recently returned from Spain. I stayed home.
About then, the world turned upside down. No NBA, no March Madness, obviously no trip to Greece. The stock market plunged. Masses canceled; schools dismissed. A month none of us will forget.
Americans excel at humor, and Twitter posts can make me laugh so hard I cry. FaceTime and texting bring family close. Netflix provided crazy relief. We swung from the prayerful to the profane. Isolation would help us build our contemplative muscles, someone advised. As we nodded solemnly, we laughed at the guy on Twitter who began day one of isolation pledging to get into the best physical shape of his life, only to find himself eating lasagna in the shower on day two.
It was funny because we saw our own wild mood swings in his. To pray or to eat all our isolation snacks in one sitting? We careened between those choices. St. Ignatius, he who lived through plague years, offered us age-old wisdom: life offers both desolation and consolation.
The usual nostrums applied: phone others. Laugh. Avoid endless news and non-stop social media. I livestream my parish Masses, Triduum, Easter. I participate in Zoom evening prayer at my parish. I watched live on the Vatican website Pope Francis’ fantastic blessing from St. Peter’s Square and even tuned into a Mass in Letterkenny, Ireland. I “went” to an Ignatian Solidarity on Tap session with Father Greg Boyle.
But sometimes, it hits: Now it’s April. They’re saying April will be, with apologies to the poet T.S. Eliot, the cruelest month so far. And then there will be May. Thank God for our shared faith, the ability to laugh, and the commitment to gratitude.
Thank God for Pope Francis, who, a solitary figure walking through the rain in St. Peter’s Square, reminded us that our earth faces many challenges, and “it is time to choose what matters and what passes away.”