Lamentations are surely in order this Holy Week of the pandemic. The numbers of deaths and infections mount, unemployment increases, and it’s probably too soon to seek hints of good news, inklings of lowered numbers. At a time when no one meets in churches, synagogues or mosques, we turn to the liturgy of the world.
And there, where evidence of suffering and evil is mind-numbing, we also find cause to rejoice. A personal favorite: Tony’s Pizza in San Jose CA, a small shop that delivered a free pizza to anyone over 70. So many supportive donations poured in, Tony was able to add a salad. Hard to imagine how much that could mean to someone hungry, fearful, aching and isolated.
Then the example of Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, parish priest in a small village near Milan, Italy. As he lay dying of COVID, his parishioners bought him a respirator. But he gave it away to a younger patient, also struggling to breathe, whom he didn’t know. No funerals now in Italy, but when Berardelli’s casket rolled through the village, people applauded from their windows and balconies.* A different version of a small procession entering Jerusalem many years ago, which Christians commemorate this day.
Another news article by Chuck Barney of the Bay Area News Group tells of Berkeley authors Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon, who started buying 25 meals a week from local restaurants, delivered to the ER staff at Oakland’s Highland Hospital. Restaurants needing business are rising to the occasion, and donors have given over $5000 to expand the program.
These three examples are heartening, but a loud chorus of praise ascends from people dutifully sheltering in place, sacrificing fun plans and rewarding activities, confronting loneliness and boredom. Unaware of all they do, parents and other caretakers of young children confined to small spaces are exercising enormous creativity and restraint. (When this is over, appreciation for teachers should skyrocket, leading to million-dollar salaries for them all.) Staying home and avoiding social contact seems like a small thing, but it may well be like the tiny mustard seed that blossoms into a giant bush, sheltering the birds. If, as medical experts hope, this effort “flattens the curve” and reduces the pressure on hospitals, it will be well worth the exasperation, frustration and anxious question, “How much longer will this last?”
Holy Week 2020 may well mark a time of stunning bravery, astonishing dedication, graced quiet, and a silent celebration unlike any other in history.
*Leonard Pitts column, Miami Herald, 3/26/20