“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence…” These words from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata would be worthy ones to take with us as we slowly and cautiously emerge from our days of confinement this month.
Some will emerge twenty-five pounds lighter and in better health; some will step out having faced anxieties and the depression of loneliness or job loss; some will interact in ways that are more conscientious and compassionate; and some of us will return to our former ways immediately or eventually. During this time, I thought about Don McLean’s American Pie, as he lamented the day the music died: “…not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken…and the three men I admire most, the father, son, and holy ghost—they caught the last train for the coast…” When the world suffers, many feel that we’ve been abandoned by God, much like those suffering war and poverty in pockets around the globe or death of Loved Ones and devastating news in our own personal lives.
Over the past forty days or so, I have been involved in numerous situations where sick persons are separated from family—when they want and need them most. I have presided at funerals where mourners grieve in isolation while craving the warm embrace of a friend. I have made many trips from our parish food pantry to homes of less fortunate families that welcome the generosity of kind donors. I counsel people by phone when they need personal, face-to-face, engagement. For many, isolation leads to fear, overindulgence, or selections from a long list of negative behaviors. After the sadness, sacrifice, and suffering that citizens endure because of COVID-19, the bells will ring again and the silence will be replaced by the noise and haste we know so well.
The world will be different as each of us is different. I have realized a few things about myself during recent weeks. First, I’m not the lush that I—and some others—feared I might be. Besides a toast on Saint Patrick’s Day and a drink with family on Easter, I haven’t had any alcohol for the past month and a half. With lots of interactions and obligations, I guess drinking truly is a communal thing for me. And as I watch Joe Biden deflect accusations of being handsy, huggy, kissy, and close-talking, I recognize that I may have similar tendencies within social settings but actually prefer distancing and I love being alone. It doesn’t hurt that I live in a beautiful, spacious home that parishioners and friends rehabbed after my arrival at Saint Charles. I am lucky to not have to forfeit my job, as so many did. I am increasingly grateful for the internet world that allows us to remain connected to one another in countless ways. My relationship with God has also been enhanced a bit during the quiet. Much was lost and much gained in the spring of 2020 that can bring greater vision and insight to us all.
On the other side of isolation, I have high hopes that we will, in fact, be more compassionate and conscientious people. Once again, the American spirit that calls us to work together for a greater good has shown itself to be strong—with few exceptions. As we go forth from our places of shelter back into the haste of society, let us go placidly, in the grace of Christ, and remember the great peace offered to us in silence. As we do, let us know and take to heart Desiderata’s conclusion: that in spite of the chaos and noisy confusion, its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.