I have not had an entry in my personal diary for so long. The significant years of our migration to Australia starting the year 2005 have been lost in the pages of my memory, and I’m trying to retrieve them especially in these slowest of times: longer nights and shorter days in winter, curled by the side of our bed while beside me is usually my youngest daughter, Myrth, deep in her slumber and Teddy in tow. She and her toy bear are inseparable companions wherever she may be, sleep included. As I rose from bed, I always sit down first and take a few deep breaths as I say my first prayers of the day: Our Father and Hail Mary my Queen. The prayers attune me to the rhythms of everyday, particularly these days when the virus ran rampant in Melbourne and I am one of the million employment casualties since March 2020.
My nurse-wife would have left for work earlier, usually around 5:30 AM. Being a theatre nurse in a private hospital is no cakewalk and she is almost always to the point of exhaustion every time she arrives home. I’d massage her back, her neck, her shoulders…as she sips her freshly brewed coffee and takes a minute bite of her homemade croissant with almond meal. Some fanciful afternoon tea after a full day’s work! It’s a smile in her day of frowns, she says, though not always. Dinner is usually ready by the time she comes home and the house never as clean and totally disinfected.
The hours of my day revolved around my family: dropping off my eldest daughter to her work in the school as a teacher’s aide and assisting my youngest in her online learning, making sure that she is not deviating on YouTube and Roblox and not fiddling with her LPS toys who act as guards surrounding her study nook. I have eyes everywhere, to all corners of our 3-year old home, running the household as a husband should when he is not earning his keep. It is a reversal of roles, but I thought one that suits us fine for the moment but disastrous financially in the long term.
However, my biggest concern is today, when the fatherhood challenge at hand is akin to a ship captain steering his ship in a stormy weather of uncertainty, looking for a hidden harbor of security and quiet. The most beloved of the psalms, Psalm 23, is a source of comfort:
“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…
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.”
This adored part of the Psalm is a song of trust, a trust after the prayer of lady St. Julian of Norwich, a 15th century English mystic: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Well, will it be well?
COVID seems to have snuffed out the precious breaths of humanity for the moment, with no end seemingly in sight. Countless deaths and boundary-less. While here I am, staging my own boundary, looking for my hidden harbor, hoping for a momentary stop to this madness. Am I mad for believing so?
I’ve looked through the Letters of Paul in the Bible when he is closed to ‘madness’ and found it in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. I love this epistle because this is the ‘naked’ Paul, emotionally ravaged but indestructible in his faith in Jesus Christ. He even calls his madness “the thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7), not wanting it and appealing to the Lord to take it away from him. But the answer to Paul appears as direct as it is ethereal: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
Grace is always sufficient, even pandemically speaking. I’ve known families whose tears failed to reach the dead body of their loved ones but nevertheless cry out in prayer. They bury their loved ones in peace, though they are apart. There is regret for not being there, but mostly there is love that knows no restrictions. They offer their dead in the altar of our Lord, and in so doing put a closure to a rather odd ending of their elderly. They told me that it is their witness. I cannot but afford a whimper but mostly a prayer. For that is what they asked of me: pray for our dead, as we pray for them. I began to understand when Paul wrote that worldly grief leads to death but godly grief to eternal life (2 Cor 7:10). Even in these ungodly times, God appears in the form of an indomitable human spirit.
At the end of each day, I gather my family to our small prayer room upstairs and pray the Rosary, each decade a dedication to people of goodwill who trust, hope, and do what their conscience is telling them in prayer. When this is not possible after a busy day, I visit my daughters in their room, tuck them in bed and ask each of them to pray before they sleep. As I lay in bed, I usually kiss my wife and say “I love you” before I close my eyes in prayer.