Keep Calm and Breathe Peace

On Wednesday’s edition of “The Writer’s Almanac,” Garrison Keillor informed us that on Wednesday, March 11th, 1918, the first cases of what would become the influenza pandemic were reported in the US—107 soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas got sick.

As we have been reminded multiple times in the past weeks, that was the worst pandemic in world history—between 50 and 100 million people died in a few months.

The World Health Organization has declared our current COVID-19 virus a pandemic as well, and unless you literally are living under a rock, your life has been disrupted. In many ways, big and small, our lives are not the same as they were just a week or so ago—and the modifications to our daily patterns are only going to increase. More people are going to set sick, more people are going to die, more colleges are going to close, more travel restrictions are going to be imposed, and more people are going to lose their jobs. Anxiety and uncertainty are high; it’s a stressful time.

And, we all know we are not at our best when we are fearful and anxious. It makes us suspicious, it makes us competitive (hence hoarding behavior), and it fosters despair, which can be paralyzing.

I don’t have any great answers for all of this, but I have been reading some of the ELCA resources, especially the suggested prayers, and it reminded me that one of the things that keeps me calmer when I am stressed is to shift my thoughts from my own situation to others who are worse off than I. It helps me remember to count my blessings, and it gives me something to do, as it invites me to think about how I might be helpful to those who are in need.

All signs are that things are going to get worse before they get better, and we’re going to need each other. I’m trying to limit my news consumption—I think the media promotes hysteria and fear-mongering, at least in part. I’m also trying to remember that Jesus came into the midst of his disciples and breathed peace among them. Breathing is good, and so is peace—a peaceful heart, a peaceful voice, and peaceful thoughts. We will see this through; God will see us through.

One of the prayers from the ELCA ends this way: “Give us courage to face these days not with fear but with compassion, concern, and acts of service, trusting that you abide with us always.“ Words to carry with us in the coming days.

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