Letting the pandemic change us for the better

Each moment matters. The potential of time is magnified. How we handle tough times really does define us.

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Weekly Tribute Thanks NHS And Key Workers Throughout Coronavirus Outbreak

“Now that time has been rearranged, we have choices to make,” writes Julia Walsh. “We each have a chance to decide: who do I want to be during and after this crisis and how can I use time differently in order to become that person?” In the photo above, a nurse in Liverpool, England, sends a message of thanks to workers for the National Health Service.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

When I was 24 years old, I fell off a cliff and shattered my face. Surviving a life-threatening accident at a young age transformed me. Afterwards, I had no more illusions about my mortality or the sacredness of time. I discovered a new urgency to live well. My long-term goals came front and center.

From my accident I learned that the smallest choices made while in crisis significantly influence our futures — even more so than during the ordinary times of life. Each moment matters. The potential of time is magnified. How we handle tough times really does define us.

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Now, our entire society is in crisis as we scramble to survive the coronavirus pandemic. None of us have clarity about when this will end. What we do during these days is crucial to our futures.

As I write this, I am in day 36 of “sheltering in place.” As I adjust to this reality, I notice that the little choices I make are transforming me. I tidy my bedroom more. I finally bought a watch, hoping to look at my phone less. Although this may be mundane, I wonder how these new habits will change me.

I was curious whether others were forming new habits too; if anyone else was finding themselves using time differently. So I asked my Twitter followers, “What new thing are you doing now in quarantine that you hope to keep doing after this madness ends?”

I found that some people are using this time to nurture their creative sides. One friend is learning new folk songs with her partner. Others are learning to play classical masterpieces. One woman told me she is writing her memoirs for her grandchildren.

I noticed that others “sheltering in place” are developing their domestic sides. Some are cleaning more. Many people are organizing their pantries and baking so much bread the stores are on short on yeast.

With death counts in the daily headlines, we are more aware of the sacredness of our relationships. Parents are, by necessity, becoming more involved with the education of their kids, sometimes learning alongside them. We’re talking on the phone more. We are even writing letters again.

Amid the anxiety and fear, we recognize this time as an opportunity to redefine who we are. We can restructure how we live our lives —and this can be both a challenge and a gift.

The writer Jessica Mesman tweeted that this crisis has graced her with is a different understanding of time: “I no longer feel rushed. Time has elongated. There seems like there will be time for everything. That’s unnerving but it’s also showing me how much of my busy-ness was self-imposed.”

Now that time has been rearranged we have choices to make. We each have a chance to decide: who do I want to be during and after this crisis and how can I use time differently in order to become that person?

While life is taking on a new structure, new habits are being established and priorities being revealed — along the way we are becoming new people. Many of us are living through profound trauma and grief. But we might also become more grounded and connected; more intentional, authentic and emotionally healthy. During this crisis, we can all change for the better.

Julia Walsh is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Her writing can be found in America, National Catholic Reporter, The Christian Century, Living Faith and at MessyJesusBusiness.com.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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