Waiting for the Other Shoe

“Seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” – Matthew 6:33-34

One of the aspects of my personality that can be maddening to those blessed to live with me is that, regardless of how well or how poorly things are going in the moment, I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. If all is going well, I marvel at the fact, and since I’m certain I don’t deserve it, I wonder how long it can last and how it will end. When things are going poorly, I think not so much about when it will turn around, but how much worse it will get first.

I know, I know. It’s part of my charm.

I don’t think I’m entirely alone in this. These days the anxiety is palpable among so many people—and if I immerse myself too deeply in what passes for coronavirus “coverage,” the fear grows in me, as well. Much of what I read is of the “pick your poison” variety—give up your personal freedom or contribute to mass casualties. Are we overreacting, or underreacting? Will this disease fundamentally change the way we live? Or will government efforts to manage it be the thing that does?

So people change the subject, trying to avoid the question on everyone’s mind: What’s going to happen next?

I was in bad place yesterday afternoon. I spent much of the weekend working, with too much access to the internet, and saw several doom-and-gloom posts on both sides of the coronavirus issue. By the time I closed my laptop, it felt as though we were going to lose our freedom and our lives, and I could do nothing to stop it.

That’s a dark place to be.

But why should we assume the worst? A week or so ago, I read an article that asked the question, what happens if this virus mutates? The first thought of most people, I would wager, is that mutation would be bad: We’re trying to develop a vaccine for this new virus, and a changing virus is a moving target. But this particular article raised the possibility of a mutation that makes this new virus more similar to other viruses for which we already have some level of immunity—in other words, what if it turns into something our immune systems can “recognize” and fight more easily?

Please note: I am not a virologist, so I don’t know if this is possible or likely. But in reading the article, it occurred to me that this “evil” virus is not evil in the sense that it is willfully trying to destroy us. It exists, and it’s bad for us, like so many other things in this sin-sick, fallen world. It is invisible and seems to spread easily—but it is not hunting us. There are sensible things we can do to try to stay safe and healthy, and we should do those things.

Suddenly I can breathe again.

Beyond keeping ourselves safe and healthy, what can we do? It’s sobering to me that the most balanced projections I’ve heard for the future of this virus still expect millions of people to get sick, and lots of serious illness or even death. We are told that the seemingly drastic steps we are taking now to slow the spread of the virus won’t stop the outbreak, but simply postpone it until healthcare is ready to treat the most serious cases. Statistically, the numbers of serious illnesses or deaths might not be high—but statistics cease to matter when your grandmother is the one denied a ventilator or your child can’t get into an ICU. Rationing healthcare in this way would not uphold the inherent value of every human life, and as Catholics, we must try to do better.

What is the best case scenario? I don’t know. Will we achieve it? I don’t know that either. But if I can sacrifice for a few weeks to keep our hospitals from being forced to pick and choose who gets treatment, I am willing to go at least that far. And while I don’t always have confidence in our political leaders, I am training myself in obedience to Christ and His Church. My bishop and pastor have asked me to make certain sacrifices for the time being, so, in humility, I will.

Early on in this outbreak, Fr. Mike Schmitz posted a great video about our sphere of interest versus our sphere of influence. One of humanity’s defining characteristics is the desire for knowledge. We are interested in everything—but it’s not without reason that the tree Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from was called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We are obsessed with knowing even those things that are beyond our reach and control.

Our sphere of interest outstrips our sphere of influence, and it leaves us feeling powerless.

[The Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

We are powerless, in many ways. We can only do what we can do, so let us find peace, acting as the Body of Christ, within our sphere of influence. The rest is in His hands, and what better place for it to be?

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