“You touched my coffee!”, screamed one customer at a café to a young barista, who burst into tears and helplessly tried to offer a new cup to the angry woman.
We sensed they were not from our area and those who are loyal to the café rallied around the young girl in her defence.
“If you are so worried about contamination, you should not even go out!” shouted one patron.
“Stay home!” another butted in.
As a pastoral worker, mine was more a word of comfort for the girl. I told her, as she sobbed making my cuppa, the current environment made everyone tense and not to take it personally and not to let the incident ruin her day.
It was easier said than done, for a few minutes later, inside Woollies, as I accidentally took a few steps over the 1.5 metres sign, an elderly gentleman looked at me with disgust and said: “Stay in your spot!” then poked me on the arm with annoyance.
Then one afternoon, while walking with my granddaughter for a much-needed exercise, a mother of three screamed at her while passing by, shouting “1.5 metres!” and huffed away. Whew!!!
These are just some incidents in what seemed to be the hidden casualties from this COVID-19 pandemic. We are all so full of fear and anxiety that we seem to have lost the love, joy, and graciousness of life.
Hardly anyone smiles now as we walk past them. Heads are bowed, eyes alarmingly vigilant but spaced out, the body language indicates “stay away from me”.
This is fully understandable as the enemy seems so invisible that we do not know who will fall by its sword. Thousands of lives are being lost and livelihood affected and social distancing and self-isolation are a much-needed shield against this new and unknown virus.
We all have been affected by it. I do not know of anyone who is rejoicing right now because of this great affliction. The sadness over the loss of loved ones including the dedicated heroes of our front-line health workers is overwhelming and unbelievable.
My heart breaks for them and I could only pray for their souls and comfort for their families. Government and health authorities are scratching their heads and doing everything they can to enforce what they know to be the best measures to control and prevent it. Many of them consider it as going to war. And there are indeed casualties. Every nation is at its knees.
But what has been its impact on me personally?
When the lockdown and the shutdown were imposed, I looked at the projects I was supposed to work on, complete, deliver or move forward with. They seemed irrelevant at present, shelved into lowest priority. I decided to put them away and store them at the garage, knowing there is no way that I would be able to work on them this year.
My perspective has quickly shifted from future to just moment by moment living, and nothing as important as health and safety. I needed to visit my GP for a medical issue. I prayed so hard to the Lord to spare me, and not send me to hospital as I dreaded the atmosphere there at present.
I am forced to be reflective more, examine parts of my life that I need to change and repent from (there are many I know), pray on my knees daily to ask the Lord to help us. Psalm 91, my favourite has become an hourly claim for protection for everyone, with my cry of:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
I always get excited about future projects, but with COVID-19, the future is a blur at present. The unknown has become more of a reality. But because I am used to being busy, I need to find some activities that would help me cope.
I have learned to cook for the family more. My daughter and son-in-law work from home, so I have taken on substantial roles in the kitchen. Family life has become a core presence.
The first few weeks of staying at home 24/7 became trying but the days became better, with family closeness and solidarity given paramount importance and appreciation. My grand-daughter, aged 11, has been given the special task of drying dishes as her contribution to family duties. Such things are blessings in disguise.
The daily laundry has become a consolation, its gentle whirring a sound of normality. Cleaning cupboards and sorting the house, having unrushed time to complete, have given me a purpose.
Sleeping-in became an escape at first, but then I also realised how exhausted my body had been over the years and I welcome the rest and the slowing down.
My shower in the morning has moved to an afternoon ritual as I rush to the shops for our essentials in the morning while stock is still available.
Simplicity has become a norm – no make-up, no perfume, just my unmade self.
Little miracles happen. When I was desperate for toilet paper, hand wipes and disinfectant sprays and none was found at the shelves, some were left in an abandoned trolley!
Reports from some parts of the world reveal that nature is taking a recuperative rest and some forms of healing over our skies, oceans, forests are being seen.
Our churches are closed and what a time – during Lent and Easter, and I wonder what message the Lord is revealing to us. And where is God in all of this – many people ask.
Spiritual messages abound right now. Most of them encouraging and affirming that God is not the source of this, as He knows no evil. But He is travelling with us in this painful journey, just like in the agony of His Son, His torture and death.
Indeed, we are laboured at present, in every way, but we have hope in the Risen Christ. As many encouragers proclaim, we will get through the other side.
As a prayer group that has been meeting for the last 22 years weekly, the spiritual lockdown did not discourage us. Led by the Holy Spirit, we now meet by phone conference every Friday and conduct our prayer meeting and spiritual fellowship, gathering prophetic messages and exhortations to see us through these difficult times.
Many have now opened their windows using technology, that even our churches have embraced. The blessing from this is that many people, who otherwise do not understand, and who tune in to church gatherings, teachings and services have paved the way to a deeper and inner recollection, with greater understanding and appreciation of faith matters.
Never again will I take granted, for example, the gift of the Eucharist. This time seems to be the most profound fasting I have ever experienced.
Recently, I got a call from a friend who is battling serious illness every day – any time, any day she can die due to heart and kidney problems. She just came out of hospital after another bout of complications. She tells me her life is on a one day at a time outlook. I comforted her that everyone’s is.
COVID-19 is teaching us an important lesson – the value of each moment, of the gratitude we need to give to God when we wake up and get through our day, of the love needed to be spoken and acted upon to let people know we care – right now, right here – not tomorrow.
And have we ever said a genuine thank you to someone who served us today?
“New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.” Amen.
(A Liturgy for Morning Prayer, Upper Room Worship book)