The pandemic has taught me a valuable life-lesson. As we begin taking off our masks, shaking hands, going to restaurants, and even sitting in movie theaters again, I realize that I could forget what I’ve learned.
As time goes by and my memories of the past year grow dim, I might just go back to normal. And the deprivations, the struggles, and the loss of this plague-time have shown me that I shouldn’t settle for normal.
Oh I’m happy to resume many of the patterns that I took for granted before lockdown. But the operative phrase in this for me is “took for granted.”
Living through so much social, economic, emotional, and spiritual upheaval made me realize how much I have taken for granted. And as a result, how often I have been inattentive to what is right in front of me and how much of my time is spent flying on automatic pilot.
Above all, I have taken life itself for granted. My life. The one and only life that is mine. At least for now, I am keenly aware of how precious it is. And I don’t want to lose the animating power of that insight.
For years I have prayed the Serenity Prayer before getting out of bed. Several weeks into the pandemic, as lay in the dark seeking tranquility, courage, and wisdom, I realized that thousands of people had not made it through that very night.
To greet a new dawn is a gift. A gift given to me by the source of all things. So I added a simple, heartfelt prayer of thanks for being alive.
For about two decades my mantra has been “one day at a time.” And the pandemic has shown me new depths of what it means to live those simple words. Two of my favorite writers will help me explain what I mean:
The late Mary Oliver wrote, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” This life is the one we’ve got. It’s a gift. And the gift includes the challenge of deciding what we’re going to do with it.
Annie Dillard urges me to stay present. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” The gift of my life consists always of this day. Sometimes this hour. Even this very minute.
In other words, each day, each moment, is a gift to be received with gratitude and spent intentionally as an act of love. Life is precious and fragile. Tomorrow, even the next hour, cannot be taken for granted. The opportunity to love is always upon us.
For if we do, we will squander our days seeing what we expect to see. Hearing what we expect to hear. Doing what we have always done the way we have always done it. The holy depth of things will remain hidden from us.
The pandemic taught me that this day is the divine gift of my life. And it is always this day. A day like none other. Being present to it in all its particularity, in its uniqueness, is crucial. As Maya Angelou put it, “This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.”
And most importantly, this is the day—with all its surprising beauty and haunting messiness—that God shows up. And nothing—especially me—will be the same when I actually notice. Jesus was getting at something similar when he told Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)
He went on to say, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
There is nothing normal about the life of faith. How could there be? It’s always a new life born each day from an encounter with the wildly loving God. It may seem a paradox, but this is what eternal life looks like.