In my last email I outlined the perils of the “read receipts” feature of an email app called Superhuman, wondering about how such an invasive feature was allowed to ship and asking myself about the ways I actively consider minorities and other vulnerable groups in my life.
Well. A lot has happened since that last email.
Nidhi and I are on week three of “shelter in place.” May 3rd is the new official date for when our county might end the mandate, but I suspect the order will stretch for a longer time.
Mentally forecasting what the next month at home will be like is impossible.
And yet, given the circumstances our situation is ideal: Nidhi and I both still have our jobs, we can work from the safety of our own home, and we don’t have children to educate or entertain or generally keep alive.
While the worst thing I face each day is sitting on cheap IKEA dining room chairs at a cheap IKEA dining room table that isn’t quite big enough for two people and a monitor, I have friends who’ve lost jobs, graduation ceremonies, weddings, honeymoons, and more because of COVID-19.
Real life weighs heavily.
Notifications from WashPo and New York Times blip onto my phone screen multiple times a day to let me know that the death toll is rising exponentially. On Twitter I see people posting their Cash app $names and screenshots of their overdue bills in the hopes that internet strangers will help them out.
Despite all of these realities swirling around me, I’ve felt like I’ve been able to hold the dark, anxiety inducing fog of Coronavirus at bay.
And then I went grocery shopping.
Nidhi and I stood in line outside of the store, six feet apart from our fellow shoppers, for twenty minutes before getting inside. It was raining. (Raining! In California!) I dropped my phone and cracked the screen.
After another twenty minutes inside I was drained from constantly calculating approximate distances from me to everyone else, mentally logging everything that I’d touched, and soaking up the collective stress level I felt from everyone inside the store. We weren’t able to get everything on our list, so we went around the corner to the other grocery store (which didn’t require any form of distancing whatsoever).
And that’s how I ended up paralyzed in the sausage aisle.
(That’s not a sentence I thought I’d ever write, but here we are in the year 2020.)
Each sausage option was too expensive to justify buying. But we needed sausages. Costco would have a better deal, but the thought of going to Costco — with even more people and more touching and more collective crowd stress — was crippling. But we needed sausages. Neither option was an option. But we needed sausages.
So I stood in front of the sausages, weighing these two options in my head while also thinking about how no one in this store is staying six feet apart but also it’s impossible to do in these aisles and it can’t be good that this store didn’t force people to line up outside even though the one we were in just around the corner did and I just want affordable sausage and I shouldn’t be touching my phone right now how many things have I touched I can’t wait to Clorox wipe everything in the car it would be nice to be home right now and —
You get the picture.
While I thought that I had been relying on God to give me peace through this Corona chaos, my trip to the grocery store revealed that I was relying more on the perceived safety and calm of our five hundred square foot apartment than God’s promises.
One of those promises that comes to my mind is from Paul, who wrote this to his friends at a distant church:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The promise of God is not answered prayers, but peace.
I didn’t have transcendent peace when I went shopping — the moment I left my sanctuary and entered into the real world I let anxiety hold me hostage in front of a wall of sausages.
I thought that bringing Clorox wipes along with me would ease the stress, but it didn’t. So next time I go shopping I’ll prepare myself through prayer and thanksgiving (but also Clorox wipes, that was still a good idea).
Not every moment has been filled with anxiety, though. Here are three moments of peace that I’ve been holding onto:
As you know, I end every email with a question. But I’d like to end this email with two:
I’d love for my next email to simply be a collection of your responses.
I’ll end each newsletter with a question that’s been placed on my heart after writing. If you feel like it resonates, please reply to this email with your reflections! Over the course of the newsletter I’ll share some of the responses (anonymously) at the bottom of the next email. I hope we can share this journey together.
Last email’s question:
When have you been marginalized? Did someone fight to include you?
It’s easy to look back on life and make certain events in life seem as if they were the worst, like being bullied in Japanese school and on the playground. But in comparison to the things that so many have experienced throughout history and even recently, what I’ve been through is small. Malcolm Gladwell in Revisionist History says, “privilege buys second chances.”