In December 2017, my daughter Emma and I were driving near Clearwater, hoping to practice merging and freeway driving ahead of a long trip to Bismarck on the coming weekend. As she was getting on the freeway for the first time, a knot of cars approached, and it was difficult to tell if they were letting her in. Our passenger-side tires hit slush on the shoulder; we began to fishtail and then spun across both lanes of traffic and into the median. We were struck hard by at least one other vehicle, which also wound up in the median. It was terrifying.
I wrote about the experience afterward: how, in an instant, I came to the stark realization that my life and hers were not in my control. Strangely, that revelation came with a feeling of extraordinary peace and the desire that, whatever happened, my daughter should know that she is loved and that everything is okay.
The story came back to me last night and again this morning during prayer with my wife, in the context of this virus outbreak. Our lives are not in our hands. But in truth, they weren’t in our hands in January or February, either. What changed in March? We are now acutely aware of one of the myriad ways we might encounter our mortality—today, next month, 10 years from now. Like our traffic accident, it’s terrifying to suddenly realize that our careful control over our own lives is an illusion.
Where, then, is the peace that comes with that realization?
About the same time news about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus was ramping up, our family received some additional news: My eldest son and his wife are expecting their first child this fall. Since life begins at conception, I am officially a dziadzi (JAH-jee – Polish for grandpa). Of course I want to protect their fledgling family from every threat, including the virus—but the best way I can do that is to stay away for now. The same applies to my parents in Michigan: I want to help them, to offer something more than a phone call or a prayer to support them during this time of isolation. But they are in God’s hands and each other’s, as they have been since before I was born.
The other day my teenage son Trevor announced that he now realizes what the social media phrase “going viral” really means. It’s a great analogy, because news and anxiety about this virus are at least as contagious as the virus itself. In our brokenness we tend to be fearful and imagine the worst. But God continues to pour His life and His love into the world, and it flows into every nook and cranny open to receive it. Trees are budding. Birds are singing. Unborn babies are wiggling in their wombs. Children are growing, laughing and learning.
And God willing, so are we.
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Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.