Thanksgiving During A Pandemic
by Sister Martha Westwater
“All of you should be like-minded, sympathetic, loving toward one another kindly disposed and humble” (1 Peter 3:8-12).
Peter might not have realized it, but about 2000 years ago he was giving us advice about being grateful for one another during a time of pandemic. Indeed, my community, the Sisters I live with here at Marillac, in Wellesley, MA, show a genuine, carefree, love for one another and this is what I am most grateful for this Thanksgiving. While the invisible snake of COVID-19 continues to slink slowly throughout the world wreaking havoc in government, industry, and in the home, we Sisters of Charity – Halifax, in isolation, are, for the most part, free from the anxiety and anguish that come with loss of jobs, financial uncertainty, and family unrest. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, the one thing we can certainly thank God for is the blessing of family and of community. How do we recognize true community among ourselves? Peter gives us three characteristics of communal living: like mindedness, kindness and humility. It is for the blessings of these virtues, so necessary for community living, that I am most grateful on this Thanksgiving of 2020 — so different from any Thanksgiving we have ever celebrated.
Consider the last inestimable quality that Peter mentions — Humility. During the past six months I have not heard one word of complaint. Of course, there is little opportunity to complain; we see very little of one other. We cannot congregate in chapel; we might not even have fully appreciated what a blessing it was to see one and all — together. We are deprived of socializing in the dining room. We are still being served meals in our rooms. The two great commandments of wearing a mask and of social distancing are widely respected. I’ve seen a Sister leave her room, notice another wearing a mask and then rush back to retrieve her own face covering. Even with these isolating restraints, there is a genuine submission to authority and a well-earned respect for our Administrator who has inspired her dedicated colleagues and kept that invisible snake of COVID-19 from our doors. Is not this respect for authority, submission to God’s Will, to things as they are — is not this true humility?
Like-mindedness. We are in this together. We share the same discomforts. We could look beyond the long hair, growing progressively longer, as the weeks and months followed in their never-changing but quickly dissolving sequence. We share the frustration of mumbled speech, of trying to keep six feet when greeting someone you haven’t seen in months, even though you live in the same house.
Finally, kindness. Despite social distancing there is a genuine interest in another’s happiness and well-being. This kindness is manifested in the gentle expression of sympathy, the affectionate note given and received at a time of loss or ill health, the blown kiss given instead of a hug. Who can even attempt to evaluate the nameless acts of loving kindness given and received during these long months of the COVID-19 pandemic?
As circumstances are at present, we will not be having the convivial family gatherings; we will not be visiting or receiving visitors at a bountiful, beautifully adorned table. No doubt we’ll have a plentiful meal and perhaps, by the end of November, we might even be back in the dining room (with necessary restrictions in place), but no matter either what the past has given or the future brings, we are united in spirit. For this wholesome, joyful spirit of community, I am most grateful this Thanksgiving.