Last week I had a couple conversations with friends who were contemplating the impact that the pandemic was having on their spirituality.
That’s not surprising. Whether someone is enduring a personal or global crisis, it’s not unheard of to have spiritual questions in the process. I should know. I’ve been through a wide array of thoughts, emotions, and questions since I started Saying Goodbye to My Body (As I Know It) with my breast cancer diagnosis. Over the past few months, I’ve replayed the chain of events that led to my diagnosis. Upon receiving antiquated and unhealthy advice that society gives breast cancer patients and survivors, I’ve managed hurt and anger while seeking both community care and self-care. As I’ve confronted the largest medical bills of my life, I’ve rethought the way gift giving and generosity are perceived in society. All of this mental processing is just what I call January.
In February, I was wondering what it meant to be Living Both Like You Have No Tomorrow and Like You Have a Century Left. This was before my mastectomy and before the Coronavirus hit my part of the country.
By March, I was wondering “When Do I Get a Break?” when I learned that I had been exposed to a healthcare worker who later tested positive for COVID-19. I found that out the day after I had frozen my eggs during the pandemic. I was still tired and cramping from my egg retrieval when I had to make plans to get tested.
Yes, in April, these intense events led to me Clarifying What I Want from Life, but I would’ve been content, as you could imagine, to have had these epiphanies without enduring breast cancer during a global pandemic. I’ve wondered why I couldn’t be one of those wise sages who gain enlightenment by reading and quoting philosophy, scriptures, biographies, and fiction from the comfort of home—or my favorite cafe, indie bookstore, or library in a pre-pandemic world of course. But no. I’m one of those people who has gained “Raw Insights on Real Life,” as my Unfiltered Snapshot tagline states, through lived experience.
Some parts of my personal journey have been so painful that I decided to write about other people’s stories instead. When I read my friend’s Facebook post on his horrific visit to a California ER during the pandemic, I reached out to ask if I could share his story on this blog.
From there, I was inspired to write about my other friends’ experiences in the Tell Me About Yourself series. In this series, I shared with you the pandemic accounts of my friend whose family planning was put on hold, my other friend who’s raising her kids alone while her husband travels for work, another friend who’s craving a partner and less bland life, my de facto cousin who has figured out what is extra in life, my cousin who misses people as she lives alone, and my friend who lost his father during the pandemic.
These are only a fraction of the stories I could’ve shared with you. I did ask my friends who were healthcare workers to join the Tell Me About Yourself series, but they understandably were not in the mood for it.
My close friend, who is an occupational therapist at a nursing home, contracted COVID-19 within weeks of starting work during the pandemic. She had been on maternity leave from late December to some time in mid- to late March. By late April, she tested positive.
Yes, the virus has impacted so many communities globally, but her exposure to it got me so angry on multiple levels. She had been wanting to wear a mask when interacting with patients, but her employer told her that she couldn’t. Eventually, her employer decided to make everyone wear masks, but that was not until a week later.
She has been able to recover, but we currently do not know how a past infection prevents or doesn’t prevent future infection. The research is not there yet.
This is why if we fast-forward to last week, it didn’t surprise me that other friends of mine were grappling with spiritual questions about suffering in light of this pandemic.
You don’t need to belong to a religion, faith, or belief system in order to grapple with spiritual questions.
For the purpose of this post, I’m not here to provide answers, but I will say that talking to my friends made me wonder:
How close does pain need to be to impact your spirituality?
Both of my friends are so disenchanted with how much suffering is occurring in the world. One of them has asked others for prayers, and the other said this pandemic made him realize he wasn’t sure he would want to be associated with any Higher Power that would allow this to happen. These are both valid and understandable reactions.
Simultaneously, I am wondering why people, including myself, tend to have spiritual questions more when the suffering hits closer to home for them. In my last post When Looking Out for Ourselves Isn’t Enough, I pointed out that many people in my circles were still living comfortable lives when our country was polarized on so many fronts in 2016. They weren’t having spiritual questions and wondering how loving and magnanimous a Higher Power really was.
Even when I reflect on my life before 2016, I was going through so many challenges that my friends weren’t. As much as they loved me, they weren’t being spiritually impacted by the ugliness of the world in a way I was.
In the years prior to 2016, my then-partner was Black and had a son. For anyone who was paying attention to the news back then, there was story after story of one Black man and one Black boy after another being shot. It was traumatizing for him and other Black people in my social circles, and it triggered memories of similar experiences that they had endured in their own lives.
When my ex-partner voiced his opinions about these tragedies on social media, his boss lectured him for airing his frustrations publicly. This sent my ex into quite a few intense conversations with me. In one particular discussion, he had a major breakdown about it. I saw him reduced to so much raw pain as he reflected on the ongoing fear, caution, frustration, and endless energy that goes into being a Black man raising a Black son and looking out for his Black brothers in a racially polarized country.
As empathetic as I am, I will never firsthand know that pain. I may have had experiences in my own life that could help me empathize with those emotions, but I will never know those exact feelings because I will never completely be in his shoes. No book, no news article, no documentary, nothing will get me to feel the exact same pain my ex did and probably still does feel.
With that said, it of course hurt me to witness my ex in so much pain. When I was in a relationship with him and was thinking of growing a family together, I would share my concerns with friends. Unless they were already part of the Black community or a similarly marginalized one, they didn’t understand the extent of my ongoing fear, caution, frustration, and endless desire to educate myself on being a better person so I could be a more supportive partner, de facto stepmom, and potential biological mom in that situation within the racially polarized climate of the US. They didn’t understand the spiritual questions and epiphanies I was experiencing as I was figuring out how to lead with love AND justice when the closest person in the world to me at that time felt neither of those things.
So imagine how I felt when those same people started to care more about the broader suffering that is happening now because of the virus.
As I mentioned in Clarifying What I Want from My Life, I have known people who are fearful of the systemic racism, individual racism, and xenophobia that is spreading rapidly along with the virus. They are championing for greater love and justice in society. I am championing that along with them, but where were they when my ex—and I as his partner—were championing those same things years ago?
How close does pain need to be to impact your spirituality?
How close does pain need to be to impact your advocacy?
If you feel like this global pandemic is awakening your spirit, what is it saying? What is it compelling you to do?
While there is a time and place for escapism in the form of TV show binging, socially distant hiking, knitting, baking, gardening, reading, and writing—how will you use those activities and others to act on your spiritual awakening?