Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,
Peace be with you. To date, this year’s Lenten pilgrimage has been particularly challenging; and it appears very unlikely that we will return to normal anytime soon*. The corona virus pandemic and how it has unfolded – even to date – is both alarming and disorienting. Crisis and uncertainty have descended upon us at a dizzying speed. In a seeming heartbeat, our world has changed, at least temporarily. The changes have brought anxiety, uncertainty, and even fear to most of us. On the other hand, the changes have also brought us an increased sense of oneness. As Fr. Richard Rohr aptly observed, “There’s a sense that we’re all in this together—every continent, country, class, religion, race, age, or gender. We’re all subject to this crisis. Suffering has an ability to pull you into oneness.” In a time of extreme partisanship and an effort to find something “positive” around which to rally, that is worth at least noting.
Rather than panic, the situation reminds me of the well-known passage, “to everything, there is a season.” Ecclesaistes 3:1-8. Seasons come and they go. Eventually, this, too, shall pass. For example, according to Dr. Tom Inglesby of Johns Hopkins, the fact that other nations have “flattened their curves” despite an initial onslaught of cases gives us hope that we can learn from what they have done and emulate it. Meanwhile, this temporary crisis does not mean that we should change or abandon our beliefs of faith, friendship, and service to those in need. Consistent with exercising reasonable precautions, we remain dedicated to our core values at St. Vincent de Paul Detroit. So far, so good!
1) What IS SVdPD Doing?
Our Staff will be working remotely through, at least, March 28th. At that time, we will reassess the situation and determine if we need to extend this policy. The decision to implement this policy was made for two primary reasons: (i) the health and safety of our personnel is our primary concern, and (ii) the belief that it is our civic duty to do whatever we can to try to limit the spread of this menacing virus. During this difficult time and consistent with these goals, we should continue to find innovative ways to improve our operation and to help those in need. Thanks to everyone for their hard work and patience to get our Council prepared for this contingency.
Speaking of contingencies, I am confident that, subject to the two reasons stated above, our staff will rise to the challenge and continue to serve our neighbors – anyone in need – even under these difficult circumstances. My expressed expectations regarding service, availability, and productivity for our Leadership and staff working remotely do not differ from when we are working together in the office. Until further notice, our stores and RRC will remain closed; and we will have no truck deliveries or pick up of donations, including furniture. It would be most helpful if Vincentians kept an eye on our donation bins in their neighborhood. For example, if and when donation bins get full, please contact Debbie Jackson, who, subject to the reasons above, will try to address the situation.
This crisis calls for patience, understanding, and full cooperation – by everyone. I expect that, together, we will rise to this occasion.
2) What Else Can Be Done?
It has been suggested that Life is 10% WHAT happens and 90% HOW we choose to respond. This is what the short-term future will come down to – HOW we CHOOSE to respond. It will consist of a series of decisions, big and small, that will determine how long this thing will shadow us. As Detroit’s own Mitch Albom said in a recent, superb article, “We need to be our best now. We need to be responsible and considerate of our society — and this doesn’t mean grabbing every roll of toilet paper off a Costco shelf and hoarding it into your truck. It doesn’t mean reporting on COVID-19 stories with political bias, when the viewers only need facts. It doesn’t mean threatening or ostracizing people who get sick, as if it’s them or you in a fight to survive.” You get the point. Through good times and bad, Mitch has been our gifted interpreter of Life’s “seasons”.
The good news is, this will eventually pass and we will get through it. We have endured worse. In some respects, this crisis offers opportunities that normal times – whatever they are these days – do not. In the spirit of friendship, let me offer just a few examples of literally countless ways that those so motivated can help and yet remain safe. These very practical suggestions, if utilized, will advance our core values of spiritual growth, friendship, and service in ways that adhere to the two reasons stated at the outset of this piece. They are merely intended to encourage Vincentians to “discuss among yourselves” – preferably by telephone – how we can continue to serve those in need.
We, of course, have been encouraged to “stay home.” Particularly for those who live alone, that can cause loneliness, even fear, during stressful times like this. Television programs can exacerbate those feelings! So now is a great time to do the following:
- Send “Thinking of You” notes to fellow Vincentians and others. It need not be a long letter. Just an assurance that someone is in your thoughts and prayers can work wonders.
- Notes to shut-ins. We all know people who do not get out much in normal times. A note asking “how can I help?” can make someone’s entire day. These days, it might even save a life.
- While “staying at home”, consider doing a “spring cleaning” of your closets, basement, and garage. Then stack it until this health crisis abates. Please recall that we have temporarily suspended all truck pick-ups of donations, including furniture. Once quarantines lift, we will gladly pick up your donations. WE NEED DONATIONS FOR OUR STORES! Make Marie Kondo proud!
- Consider donating to local Go Fund Me sites – Economically, low-wage workers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, are particularly vulnerable to this virus. An army of service workers have already been laid off without pay or benefits. Moreover, medically, given the “personal contact” nature of their jobs, they are also more vulnerable to infection. Even a small donation sends a message of friendship and hope those who are temporarily back on their heels, or worse, e.g. neighbors in need.
These are mere examples of countless ways we can continue to serve and assist via telephone, e-mail, social media. Choose to keep serving, even from home!
Nancy Szlezyngier sent a beautiful message regarding home visits and common sense. I wholeheartedly support the views she expressed therein. Please take all reasonable precautions. That is the best way to be able to sustain our efforts to help neighbors in need. Please also remember that home visits – while a most personal, beautiful, and inspirational way to serve those in need – is only one of countless ways of doing so.
c) Spiritual growth – Prayer
Crises have an uncanny way of helping people recall what really matters. For all people of faith, this includes making time for prayer and reflection. Typically, we think of prayer an expression to God of our needs. E.g. “Lord, please help me . . .”. Perhaps we should not pray to change our circumstances, but rather to increase our ability to help and love others, e.g. “Thy will be done.”
Pope Francis recently spoke of praying the rosary, a beautiful act of adoration and reflection. Our religion is rich with formal prayers that offer peace and hope to those in need. Especially in times of crisis, may we use these prayerful expressions to remain outwardly focused.
Last month, I spoke of the concept of a more extemporaneous type of prayer. At its core, it involves little more than pausing and sharing heartfelt expressions with God in an intimate way.
I am blessed with a loving, supportive family. Earlier this month, one of my beloved adult “children” forwarded our family a beautiful, extemporaneous prayer that he had come across. You could say that he sent us a “thinking of you” note. It touched me deeply in its “outward focus”. In that same spirit of “thinking of each of you”, I share it herein.
Prayer for a Pandemic
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health and making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of our economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose Love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us find ways to be the loving embrace of (our higher power) to our neighbors.
Prayer by Cameron Wiggins Bellm
Be assured, each of you is in my daily prayers. So, too, are our courageous front-line health workers. In turn, I ask that you keep our remarkable staff and me in yours. Heartfelt thanks.
No one knows exactly what lies ahead. Indeed, by the time this column gets published, the world may have changed in ways that we could not have known even a week or so ago! So with that caveat, I conclude by sharing the following.
Each of us – Vincentians, staff, Board, donors, friends of SVdPD, everyone involved – needs to take all necessary precautions during this very unsettling time. As I have said before, let’s continue to support each other, our families, our neighbors in need, and our communities. Please be kind to each other and be especially kind to those most in need.
The future not yet been written. But know this: We will get through this. Together, let’s commit to be able to look back proudly and say we did it consistent with our core values of spiritual growth, friendship, and service to all. IF we choose to do so, then we will embrace the eventual “return to normal” with a more clear vision of what really matters. At a minimum, this crisis will surely instill us with what author Jeffrey Meyers describes as “a deeper understanding of the precarious nature of human existence.”
Good health to all of you. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,
*Note: This article was submitted on March 23rd. Circumstances surrounding the coronavirus crisis may have changed by the time of scheduled publication.