I will begin this blog first by apologising. It’s been several weeks since I have last reached out to you – I’ve been absent without explanation. I took some time out to process the death of someone close to me – an old friend in her eighties. Thank God she wasn’t taken by this terrible coronavirus, but old age. She died peacefully in her sleep.
I hope you won’t object to be telling you just a little about her. She was born with a rare genetic condition, Turner’s Syndrome. It’s a form a dwarfism and she only grew to 4”7. She had one kidney, webbing around her neck and difficulty with her joints. She was also unable to have children, but my friend never spent a day of her life feeling sorry for herself and would never have thought of herself as disabled. She was a goer. She grew up in country Victoria, Australia then moved to Melbourne in her early 20s. She lived at a youth hostel and found a job at the telephone exchange. Next, she sailed to London to experience the 60s. After two years in London she migrated to Canada and worked as the cook at the institute for the blind in Vancouver. When she returned to Australia, she worked at an outback cattle station in Queensland, travelled across the Nullarbor Desert to Perth and finally settled down in Melbourne. She never married but loved her nieces and nephews and had lots of friends. She helped with community events, did line dancing, bowled and loved her pet cats. She had a full life. She was endlessly generous with her time, always cheerful and had a smile for everyone she met. She was a bright light in my life – a light that went out at a dark time in the world. Maybe that’s why I needed to take a couple of weeks out.
Fortunately she was buried before social isolation came into effect and at her funeral the pastor read the beautiful Psalm 23 to about 60 people:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I felt fortified and strong hearing Psalm 23 going into the terrible time. Now the world is threatened by a virus with a death rate of about 3.4 per cent. It is totally random. Although older people are more vulnerable, it can still kill relatively young healthy people.
It is very easy to feel angry and scared and lost. It almost feels surreal. We are all asking: Has the world really changed so quickly? Are businesses really closing down left, right and centre? Am I actually here, trapped in my home? Why did this have to happen to me?
Have you read The Lord of the Rings novels by the great English Christian writer JRR Tolkien? The Lord of the Rings was of course inspired by World War II. I remember this conversation in the novel between the courageous little hobbit, Frodo, and the wise wizard Gandalf about the war in the fairy world
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
I would like you to remember that going forward. It is not for you to ask why you live in this terrible time, but it is up to you to make good use of your time. If you’ve been told to socially isolate then stop going out and don’t spend time with other people, only the people you live with. It is never useful to feel sorry for yourself. Remember that our parents’ grandparents survived wars and depressions and didn’t spend a lot of time grumbling. I love that message you see on social media: “Your grandparents were called to fight in world wars. You’re being called to wash your hands and sit on the couch. Don’t stuff it up!”
And just because you’re stuck in the house, doesn’t mean you can’t still be useful. I have a friend who is a nurse, one who is a doctor, one who is a police officer and one who is an aged care worker. They head to work everyday while I stay barricaded at home, but I frequently send them messages of support and love and thanks. Yesterday I stopped and thanked the woman at the supermarket checkout for serving me during this difficult time. She said, “Oh, don’t” then tear-ed up. Make sure you thank every person who serves you in a shop for still being there for you.
And don’t spend too much time resenting this situation. I spoke to a friend who served on the frontline in Vietnam this week. He said to me that he would not change a thing about his life – not the good, the bad or ugly. He is grateful that his life has been challenging, interesting and has shaped him to be the man he is today. Remember that you are now on a new journey. Accept that at the end of this, you will know yourself and your strengths better.
I want to share a quote with you from the nineteenth-century Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, “Life is mostly froth and bubble, but two things stand like stone, kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.” Now is the time to be endlessly kind to other people and courageous facing your own challenges. Now is the time to do your best and be your best.
You might say to me, I never saw this disaster coming, not in a billion years. Well, I want you to think of it this way. You read my blogs. You have an interest in learning more and improving yourself. You’ve invested time in becoming a better, stronger person. Maybe you have been preparing for this for a very long time, you just didn’t know it.
I wish you courage and I send you love. To fortify you here is a beautiful hymn.
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