The Upside of the Lockdown: Patience and Peace

One day last week, during my daily “quiet time” (which most days are nowadays), it occurred to me that the peace David and I feel most days is a desirable place to be in any case. Now, I told myself, what I need to work on is Patience. Maybe Patience and Peace are the two pillars upon which our new life could be built post-pandemic.

First off, those of you who know me well know that patience is not my long suit. No, I’m the kind of person who repeatedly hits the “up” button for the elevator while standing in the lobby, even though I can very well see that the elevator is somewhere up on the seventh floor and is slowly moving down toward me at a snail’s pace. At least punching the button makes me feel that I’m doing something to hurry the thing up.

So yes, I’m aware of this shortcoming in myself, and really, when you think about it, since I have nowhere especially to go except the grocery store and the occasional trek to the drugstore or to collect takeout, this should be the perfect time to exercise this virtue of patience in my life.

What a strange time we are living in, my friends. Many are asking, “Will life ever return to normal again?” And this question is sometimes followed by another: Should our lives return to the former arrangements — social, economic, political, cultural divisions that have long divided our society into classes and periodic, near-class warfare. As I write this, Minneapolis has just experienced the third night of rioting over the horrendous killing of an unarmed black man, while neighbors and then the rest of the world witnessed his death as a police officer knelt on his neck, shutting off his airway entirely. (See lead photo from the Sunday, May 31, New York Times.) And so last night, the police station was apparently burned to the ground in vengeance. Obviously the looting of stores didn’t help the rioters’ cause, but I have to confess some sense of justice as the police building erupted in flames — following by a great sense of justice as that officer has wound up behind bars, charged with murder.

I usually avoid inflammatory political rhetoric in these blogs, but I do believe I join most of you who do cry for justice in this and similar cases.

Let me shift here a bit, but please stay with me because I think there may be a thread of connection here with the awful issue above. My friend, South African theologian and writer John de Gruchy, sends out a weekly meditation to a group of us on his email list. Recently John’s been writing a series of meditations on living in the time of this present pandemic. And a couple of weeks ago, he sent one titled, “Finally, There is Silence.” (See second photo below.) I found this particular meditation especially arresting and thought I would share a bit of it with you.

John makes the point that we should really read the Bible and the newspaper side by side in order to connect our faith with the daily world around us. This reminded me that when I was in seminary, one professor taught a course every year called The Bible and the New York Times. I never took his course, but the point has stayed with me through the years. John also underscored the wisdom of paying attention to the news and bringing to bear our faith response grounded in scripture.

Anyway, what sparked John’s particular meditation was first a headline and then a careful reading of an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian. Bridget Delaney wrote the article titled, “After the restlessness finally there’s stillness: my last stage of coronavirus isolation.” Upon reading that, John decided then and there to write his meditation on Silence. Let me share a bit with you:

After being bombarded by information about COVID-19, both true and false, after catching up on all the statistics, after all the “war talk” and stories of restlessness, anxiety, frustration, and suffering, along with some comic relief and creative innovation, “finally, there is silence!” Ironically, this headline rang bells as loudly and clearly as the noon-day bell.

. . . (Brigid Delaney) observes, “this might be the first and only chance we have the time and mental space to experience true and prolonged stillness” because we have all been forced to settle “into a slower-paced rhythm. There’s nowhere to go, nowhere to be.” Some might be horrified by this shutdown, for it is not easy to enter silence, but Delaney turned it into opportunity. “Panic, grief, then wonder: the virus has taken away my old life and replaced it with something new.” She had, she says, “Dropped down into stillness.”

Neither John nor I are blind to the downside of lockdown — the loneliness and destitution brought on by job and business losses, the sickness that has come to so many. So neither he nor I are romanticizing the suffering brought about by this pandemic. But still, we are going to emerge into a new world of some kind, one that we might actually make better than the old one that has been brought to a halt in this historic time.

What will our collective life be like once this nasty bug has been beaten into submission? What will we have learned over these months ... what will the day after look like? And what wisdom have we gained? To appreciate a day of rest, at least once a week, calling it Sabbath? To appreciate more the people we love and live with? To be grateful in a new way for those who collect the trash, deliver the papers, stock the grocery shelves, deliver the mail? And since this virus has been no respecter of persons, maybe a new appreciation of our shared humanity, with a greater sense of justice and fairness under the laws of the land. And thus, maybe fewer and fewer vicious killings in black communities.

In other words, a greater wisdom in our new world ahead. And maybe also a greater patience as we wait at elevators, stand in grocery and pickup lines, waiting our turn — chatting with others who are also in the same shared boat of both human suffering and hope. Anyway, I’m still working on that last one — namely patience. But that virtue is coming along inside me ... coming along and growing, bit by bit.

I have nothing but time to practice it these days.

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Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
I am a clinical psychologist, Episcopal priest and author, and I currently serve as Priest Associate at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.