You know the point in war movies when the disgruntled teenager declares his ironclad intention to enlist? Well, when the impact of coronavirus first hit us hard back in March, I understood that teenager’s motivations in a visceral way for the first time. COVID is the closest thing to a world war my generation has seen. Like so many others, I wanted to fight back.
But very quickly, I realized that I didn’t know how. First, as the schools closed, I thought I should offer to babysit children whose parents are essential workers (not that I actually wanted to, mind you, my hands were quite full enough with my own kids!). But then, of course I couldn’t. We weren’t allowed to see anyone. Some of the people I thought of took a leave of absence from work in order to stay home with the kids. Others divvied up the work as best they could. At least I checked in on them, I thought, trying to make myself feel better about having my hands tied.
Then I realized I wanted to help with the fight from within the hospital. What a waste of my medical degree to sit on the sidelines when so many people needed help. While I watched other health care professionals being pulled from their traditional roles in order to form COVID teams, I felt completely inadequate. Despite my medical background, I couldn’t fight as a medical professional.
It was about this time that my church began a mini-quarantine series called “Hope and Soap” as a way to share what God is doing through church members in order to spread hope during these times. With each episode of amazing acts of kindness and caring (anything from preschoolers painting rocks of encouragement to decorate the sidewalk to a friend of mine raising $28,000 for a local organization through a mega-bike ride with her husband and grown children), I felt worse about my lack of reserves to engage in anything extra to encourage others.
And as the weeks went on and I felt more and more disconnected from the community and out of shape, so to speak, with ways to serve, I started to realize that it would be helpful to borrow an analogy from the exercise advice I used to give patients during check-ups in outpatient clinics:
The 15 minute walk you take is better than the 30 minute run you don’t.
I felt like I had failed. We couldn’t even do this simple thing! Weeks of coaching were needed in order to normalize the new mandatory accessory.
After a few weeks of thinking about how to help, keeping in mind the “15 minute walk” idea, I started to run a tally on the small ways my family has taken part in the fight.
No, my masks didn’t inspire anyone, but I did email all of my friends in the medical field in order to thank and encourage them.
No, I didn’t write any breakthrough piece for the NY Times (my neighbor did this), but I have forwarded what others are writing about: King COVID and the King Who Cares, for example, which the author Nicole Rim has made available as a printable book.
When college kids were being sent home and needed a place to store their belongings, I wished my awful unfinished basement weren’t so heaped with stuff. But then I realized that with some rearranging, I could take two boxes. If someone just had two boxes, I could help. A few weeks later, I was connected with that person, and one day in April I drove over to the Harvard campus to retrieve two large boxes -- and one white board! -- from a student about to return home overseas.
When my sister asked me to volunteer with an organization making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless population, I found I couldn’t even respond to the email. I was overwhelmed with feeding my own family -- and there wasn’t any bread on the shelf in the grocery store (at that time) anyway. Plus, Community Cooks, the organization I usually work with to make food donations, cancelled all upcoming commitments in an effort to decrease the spread of disease.
But I still have been able to help feed others during this time: I donate money at the grocery store every time I shop. I supported friends who walked in the Project Bread Virtual Walk for Hunger this month. We also sent money to the Mision de Caridad that is providing emergency support to women and children in limbo at the Mexican-American border.
Participating in World Vision’s Global 6K has been a tradition in my church and in my family for the past few years, but without the group pressure to organize and my personal hesitation to fundraise for anything other than COVID efforts during this time (not to mention being incredibly out of shape myself!), I didn’t sign up. I was grumpy the whole morning on the day of the virtual event, and I had to remind myself of the other ways we were supporting World Vision during this time. For example, we donated to World Vision’s COVID fund at Easter, and we continue to sponsor our child in the Congo, now with 20% of funds being diverted to COVID efforts there. We also helped celebrate our sponsored child’s birthday this year by sending a card in advance.
I wished we had something to submit to display on “Hope and Soap”, but I realized we could join into efforts already underway. When certain church members organized a fund to double our donations to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund in Cambridge, we contributed and helped raise over $4600 for the Cambridge Community Foundation.
By the time I was done making my mental list, I decided we hadn’t lost our community at all. It just looked different now. It feels different now. But we have tried to help. And we have helped some.
Last week at (virtual) church, we sang the song Surrounded, written by Elyssa Smith and recorded by Michael W. Smith. The lyrics repeat the line “this is how I fight my battles” over and over again, reminding the worshipper that the fight continues. The chorus reminds of the promise that even when it feels all too overwhelming, like the fight is closing in on all sides, that God is also all around us, fighting for us and comforting us every step of the way.
Lyrics from “Surrounded”
“It may look like I'm surrounded
But I'm surrounded by You
This is how I fight my battles...
This is how we fight”
Now, not all efforts have paid off. For example, we donated to our local playspace that was at risk of closure...only to find it wasn’t enough. The playspace will be one of the many casualties of this war. It makes me sad that we can’t win all of the battles, but I know we won’t regret trying. And I try to remember that we are not alone in this fight.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.