By Deacon Andrzej Sobczyk
When I worked in palliative care, every day I met patients who were diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness. Many of them knew that their life expectancy was very limited. It was always a shock for them to hear that news for the first time, and not surprisingly they often reacted with denial. The hardest part, it seemed, was for people to admit that they no longer had much control over their lives. And yet, paradoxically, those few who made that admission, after a period of intense grief, seemed to flourish in unexpected ways. They emanated peace, and even a sense of quiet joy. They experienced gratitude for each moment and each living being. They stopped pursuing a cure, yet they found a deep sense of healing. They were closer to death than ever, but free of resentment and anger. They were filled with pure unconditional love.
Often, these patients did not share their deepest feelings with others, since the people around them were still focused on action, strategy, and maintaining their sense of being in control. Giving up the desire for control meant failure to them, while the patients were actually experiencing freedom, liberation, and enlightenment. Their old expectations, desires, and attachments had died, and they were already living a new life of resurrection, free of their previous limitations.
Today, because of the coronavirus, a much larger percentage of us realizes how illusory our sense of control has been. Just weeks ago, the economy was strong, the stock market was booming, and many felt very confident about their future. Now, some of those same people are jobless, on the brink of bankruptcy, and afraid for their lives. Proud leaders of powerful nations have been stricken with illness as well.
We need to do everything possible to protect and save lives. Every single life is precious and worth fighting for. At the same time, even if the current grim predictions of 100,000 to 240,000 US casualties materialize, 99.9% of us are going to survive. That is, we are not going to die physically due to this virus, but something will in fact die in all of us. We will all experience some kind of a loss; not the least among them is the loss of the illusion of being fully in control over our lives. And as painful as it is to experience that loss, it can also be a blessing, for we might become more open to new life.
I wish this virus never happened and I do not believe that God sent it upon us. But I do believe that God wants us to experience the fullness of life, which comes when we are willing to hand the controls over to God. With a new sense of freedom and a willingness to go where we are sent will come a greater sense of peace, joy and contentment, a recognition that all life is sacred and everything belongs. We may also experience a sense of awe and appreciation of the little things, an attitude of gratefulness, and an abundance of new creativity. God’s mercy and unconditional love are stronger than death.