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May 1, 2020

Striving to Find Peace in a Pandemic

It is five o’clock in the morning. Why the hell did I wake up so early? Oh, right, I want to get an early start on the workday. I have trained myself to wake up early to get ready for the early morning commute, which is no longer necessary, for now. Yet, I have been blessed to telework full time since the start of social distancing. During a crisis, it is important to count your blessings. However, that sounds like a broken record for me right now.


At this point, I am up, but not alert or awake. For heaven’s sake, do not turn on the television to CNN or skim through today’s Washington Post. Your intellectual curiosity leads to endless angst and frustration. And here we go:


  • There are 5 million workers who have lost their jobs.
  • At this time, 1.03 million people have contracted COVID-19.
  • At this point, 60,000  have died from coronavirus.


I am striving to find peace of mind in a pandemic. While trying not to take anything for granted (i.e. having a job or good health) I struggle to sleep at night. I express my sympathy to a friend who also battles through the workdays while sleep deprived. However, compassion does not provide any immediate solution to our restlessness.


For Pete’s sake, turn off the television. It only distracts me from my need to self-start the day. I miss hurrying up to hop on the bus, to grab a seat on the subway and get to Our Lady’s Chapel at St. Mary’s Catholic Church for Daily Mass. Heck, I miss Mass on Sundays, the priests, and my Parish community. Earlier this year, Archbishop Wilton Gregory postponed public Masses indefinitely for the Washington, D.C. region to comply with efforts to bend the COVID-19 curve. Before that and since, so many people have made me feel so welcome to this church. There are so many that have given so much and asking nothing in return in the name of faith, hope, and charity.


How can something without arms, legs, or intellect pose as such a formidable adversary? Beyond the numbers, someone I knew lost her battle to coronavirus earlier in April. I met her at the Ashtanga Yoga Center (AYC) near American University. I found out about her death on Facebook. She worked as a dental hygienist, practiced yoga at least 3 times a week, and picked up kickboxing. After AYC closed, we had drifted apart. Occasionally, we would bump into each other during the early morning rush hour commute on the metro. On the same day she died, her remains were cremated. I did not even get a chance to say goodbye.


Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the same sleep-deprived senorita expressed concerns about me. Basically, she knew that as an introvert I turn inward and retreat into myself and allow the darkness to take over. While I did my best to reassure her that there were no plans to cause mayhem or mischief, there were things which still haunt me to this day. I have my share of wounds, scars, and heartache. In such an isolated environment with social distancing, such struggles are amplified even more loudly. Regardless, I am grateful that such a friend checked in on me.


As the workday moves forward, the news of the day brings a little bit of light into my emotional grey skies:

  • I received an update from my sister regarding her granddaughter. She has boundless energy, loves to play outdoors, and likes to dance.
  • I learned that my niece received a birthday gift that I shipped to her days ahead of her birthday.
  • In an e-mail, I received a few suggestions regarding gifts for another friend’s upcoming birthday.

All these messages bring me a little bit of hope. While growing up, I would listen to Pop playing music in the living room after a grueling day at work. The lyrics to ZZ Hill’s Down-Home Blues remain in my mind. So I put on my earphones and crank up the music. No matter what the tune, the melodies drive away my melancholy.

There are no lessons or best practices to share. In this moment, I realize how interconnected and interdependent we are, seeing those relational dynamics every time I participate in a yoga class using Zoom or walk to a local parish for confession and prayer. Social distancing cannot lead to desolation and despair. I am blessed that I can always reach out to someone. As for hope, it reminds me of the following poem by St. Teresa of Avila:


Let nothing trouble you.

All things are passing away.

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks nothing.

God alone is enough.


And the following yogic mantra also comes to mind:


May I be filled with love and kindness.

May I be well.

May I be peaceful and at ease.

May I be happy.


The passages help to keep my mind occupied and focused on a positive vision of the present and the future. As the chaos of our new way of life starts to settle down, I can realize the unchanging nature of faith and choose to turn my thoughts toward serenity in each passing moment.


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