The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has gradually shattered the entire world in a short period. Despite the warnings, people traveled, had parties, meetings, and did not appear to care about social distancing. When it began in China and later in Italy, many did not understand the seriousness of the situation until it hit our own countries and cities. We have seen the heartbreaking video of a Chinese woman running after the hearse that carried the body of her husband … not being able to say goodbye for the last time. Since Bergamo in Italy has no room to bury the dead in the cemeteries, military vehicles were deployed to carry the coffins outside the city to be cremated. The death toll is alarmingly high in countries affected by Covid-19, and the number of people affected is being multiplied each day. On March 21, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted, “We have lost control of the epidemic. We have died physically and mentally. We don’t know what to do anymore. All solutions on Earth have ended. The only solution is in the sky.”
Until now, if anyone said, do not panic, we all listened. Now we experience feelings of panic but, at the same time, we have to be responsible for our own life as well as our neighbor’s life. It was news in the United States and Great Britain that people did not have sufficient toilet paper, thermometers, and hand sanitizers. We experience panic, not in obtaining toilet paper, but in saving our lives and the lives of others. At this time, it is not constructive to ask what the Government is doing, and what Church authorities are doing. It is not the time to panic when we are informed about the cancellation of worship services in our church. No Government in the world has been able to handle this problem. The issue is beyond the power of the government. It is beyond the control of church authorities. Nobody can cheat the virus: the virus does not know you and cannot distinguish between the rich and the poor. There is no political party for the virus, no religious group. Everyone is affected and if we do not become accountable for helping to control the spread of the virus, we may not get a second chance to regret it.
Now what is important is the safety of everyone. We can embrace each other later, and we can shake hands, have parties, get back to our community prayer services later: for that to happen, we have to be alive. The only way to be alive is to follow instructions.
We have learned to use new terms such as self-quarantine, social isolation, social distancing, hunker down, and curfew. There is psychological trauma for many people because our world never taught us to enjoy solitude or to be quiet for at least ten minutes a day. We were always busy with friends, fellow-workers … engaged in social gatherings to such a degree that become anxious when our social life is so radically changed and altered. We never imagined a day would come like today. COVID-19 has affected everyone. It has changed the economy, jobs, families, elderly, sick, needy, and society in general. When a natural catastrophe happens, people bind up their wounds and get back to a healthy life within a short period, using the power of resilience. In this case, it is a gradual suffering more than a one-time event. Some suffer more than others.
It is essential to understand that social isolation is a temporary restriction. We cannot, however, predict how long it last. Quarantine is a restriction imposed in place of confinement for those who are infected with a contagious sickness. Self-isolation is imposed to control the spread of the disease. We can read in the Bible (Leviticus 13) that quarantine was imposed on the people who were infected with a contagious disease. It was for the safety of everyone.
Can people be happy when they are in social isolation? Of course, they can. Studies show that besides our heritage and the situation that we to confront, there is one critical determining factor for happiness: our behavior. Thus, the key to happiness lies in our daily intentional activities. Our everyday circumstances have indeed changed suddenly. We have limited movement; we cannot go to a restaurant to have our favorite food. We have to wait in a long line to pay at the grocery counters; we cannot meet our friends and family members as before. But it may be only for a short time. Our happiness does not depend on our life circumstances.
How to make wise choices to be happy at this challenging time? Let us affirm our present situation since there is no sense in being sad or afraid of what is happening. It is not in our hands to control it. Here are some suggestions to create a better life for ourselves at this moment of social isolation.
- Start communicating again: Often, with our busy schedules, we find that we do not have sufficient time to communicate with our friends and loved ones. Now is the restart that communication. Call your friends and family members who are near and far, using the various technologies available: Facetime, WhatsApp, Facebook, google duo, and twitter, etc. Spend some time every day with these individuals … we cannot complain that we do not have the time.
- Find something interesting to do. Cook your favorite food, find a recipe, do it as a family. Ask your mom how to make a some particular dish.
- Search for movies you can watch as a family. Look for your favorite television program. Relax and watch without worrying about your job or the COVID-19.
- Read some books. If you don’t have them in your house, order them online. Search for the books that you always wanted to read and/or in a field of particular interest.
- Find some time for physical exercise. Go for a walk if the place you live is conducive and will not violate the social isolation rules. Dust the exercise machine you bought and haven’t used and start using it.
- Start a course online. There are many online courses offered like “Coursera” where they have over 1400 courses to select from.
- Help someone in need, especially if you know an older person in your neighborhood who needs to buy groceries or give a phone call to inquire about his or her health.
- Find some time to pray as a family: praying the rosary is an excellent way to start. Make it part of your life. Learn to be alone and enjoy the solitude.
- Read the Bible and find some consoling words and share them with your family and friends. For example, “for this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Or “we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom, 8:28)
- Establish a good relationship with God in your isolation. Trust in God’s loving mercy. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Fr. Shijo Kanjirathamkunnel, C.M.
Mission of Alaska