By Rebecca Hoesterey
Like many of you, I have felt confined to four walls during this time. Each day, I stare into video calls, emails, Google documents, Instagram, the interactive pandemic graphs you can toggle on the NPR app. I stare at the purplish-gray wall that backs up to my desk and the whiteboard with the scribbled list of endless tasks to complete. So quickly am I prone to getting caught up in my own world where the only focus is me, myself, and I, the success of my work, and how much complaining I can squeeze into one day. It was about a month into isolation, though, when God so gently hit me over the head and gave me the grace to change my daily perspective on this pandemic.
During a week in April, I took the time to meet with groups of students that I am preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation. I focused our time together via Zoom on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I asked the students to reflect on the gifts they felt they had been using while in isolation. A range of answers and perspectives were shared, and it was insightful to hear where their minds and hearts were present.
God must have really been laughing, though; the more I listened to my students’ reflections, the more I found myself personally reflecting. I had spent the last month either a.) complaining that I couldn’t go anywhere or see anyone or b.) consuming myself with the “good life” I had abruptly been given- more time to catch up with friends, an abundance of sleep, time to cook real meals, no hour-long commute, opportunities to run in the daylight, even Nike shorts and Birkenstocks for my daily dress code!
It was the gift of understanding that glimmered before my eyes each time I spoke with my students, and I quickly realized that I had failed to step outside of myself for more than five seconds during this pandemic. I felt uneducated as I began to notice headlines and articles detailing our country’s social injustices, which the pandemic was doing a fine job at shedding light on. I felt inadequate as I listened to a Jesuit friend share his incredible experience with the homeless of Detroit at the local Pope Francis Center.
I felt I had become so engulfed in the fun life of the big city that I let slip one of the first prayers I uttered upon arriving in DC after a year of service: “God, I don’t want to forget about your people.” This familiar prayer crept into my heart again as I laid with this restlessness. I deeply desired to better understand the effects of the pandemic outside of my circles and to be present in both thought and deed to the people of our nation who were silently suffering.
It was during our parish’s celebration of National Do Something Good For Your Neighbor Day on May 16 that I had the opportunity to do exactly that. Among other activities, I stepped up to serve at the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) that afternoon. Alongside fellow Holy Trinity parishioners and DMV citizens, I performed the task of providing individual boxes of macaroni and cheese to my service partner so she could put them into the new boxes of food on the conveyor belt. These full boxes of food are then distributed to organizations that help individuals and families in the region who struggle with hunger and food insecurity.
It was a simple action, nothing like the extraordinary efforts of my Jesuit friend, who was out on the cold streets each day with the homeless; however, God consoled me with the words of Mother Teresa: “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
I felt a sense of unity as I looked around the food packaging room and noticed the diverse group of individuals who had all hands on deck to serve, equally desiring to “do something good for their neighbor” during this time. I took in the words of the CAFB staff as they explained the statistics on hunger and food insecurity in our region and the impact of their efforts. I desired not so much to come, package some food, and leave, but to take a step further and understand who I was serving and where that food was headed. The recipients may never know me, but I wanted to make sure I “knew” and “heard” them.
God even came full-circle, and upon reflection, He reminded me that I had lived out exactly what I had been preaching to my Confirmation students: The Holy Spirit is constantly within us and among us, and He will come to our aid when we are feeling weak. It was through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that I became aware of my own lack of compassion and sensitivity. It was through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that I actively re-committed myself to my call as a confirmed Catholic, which led to a deeper understanding of the pandemic’s effects and how our city was so beautifully responding as neighbors.
To conclude, I would like to share with you a poem that a Jesuit Volunteer friend shared on social media a few weeks back. I pray during this time that we lean into our God-given gifts, especially the grace to be able to understand the impacts of this pandemic, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we respond to Jesus’s call for us: “Love your neighbor.” (Mark 12)
We Are Not in the Same Boat, Author Unknown.
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it's not like that. We are in the same storm, but not the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. And vice versa.
For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial and family crisis.
For some that live alone, they're facing endless loneliness. Or for couples in abusive situations, homes that beg not to be returned to. While for others, it is peace, rest and time with their mother, father, sons and daughters.
With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment, some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working. Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.
Some families of four just received $3400 from the stimulus, while other families of four saw $0.
Some are concerned about buying foods their family loves, while others are concerned if there will be food to sustain their family through the next few days.
Some want to go back to work because they don't qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.
Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling. While others are spending 2-3 hours/day educating their children on top of a 10-12 hour work day or working with children who have disabilities yet no longer have respite or any assistance in meeting their complex needs.
Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it, and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don't believe the virus is a big deal.
Some have faith and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.
So friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.
Each of us will emerge in our own way from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.
We are all on different ships during this storm, experiencing a very different journey.