by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM May 17, 2020
In these days of quarantine and staying at home, it may feel as if the world as we know it is shrinking. I’m not speaking of the thousands of healthcare workers and first responders who are meeting a tsunami of critical human need each day. I’m speaking of those of us staying at home, with our daily lives in some ways bounded by four walls. We are seeing less and less of people’s faces, covered as they are with a professional mask or a makeshift bandana folded over for protection, only eyes and hair exposed. We may venture out for a daily walk regulated by safe social distancing or a necessary but cautious trip to the supermarket. Is the world as we know it shrinking by the day?
Not at all! I think of COVID-19 as the great amplifier. For me, it has turned the volume up on some questions that have always resided in my heart, but which are now so loud that they can’t be ignored:
What do I fear?
What do I cherish that is greater than my fear?
What do I long for with all my heart?
What fills me with gratitude?
What do I miss most?
What have I discovered I no longer need?
I find my world expanding as I live with a new and grateful awareness of what is sometimes the underbelly of our lives: the support service people. Those who truck our goods, those who stock them, package them, disinfect shelves and registers, those who deliver our mail and our packages. I have been seeing some extraordinarily exhausted service people in my occasional trips outside.
I’m living with a fresh and renewed gratitude for Ray, my mail carrier, who is living the Post Office’s unofficial motto of “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their daily rounds.” Not even COVID-19, it seems.
With the arrival of the corona virus, I started a new spiritual practice. Every week I leave Ray a note of thanks and a remembrance of prayer in my mailbox, accompanied by a small treat—a box of M & Ms, a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer (when those were easier to come by), some homemade cookies. When I do this, I pray for his and his family’s safety and well-being and my world grows larger as I include the thousands of unnamed and unrecognized public servants who provide food and medicine and care and communication for us day in and day out.
With Ray in mind, I recently discovered a U.S. Post Office inscription different from the “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” version that’s so familiar to many of us. This relatively unknown version is inscribed at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. It was originally called “The Letter” and was written by Dr. Charles W. Eliot, former president of Harvard University. I think it is spot on in describing the heroic work of so many service workers who insure that we can go on living day to day, often at significant personal risk to themselves and their loved ones.
Perhaps you’d like to join me in praying Dr. Eliot’s words as a litany of thanks and protection for all those who serve us in so many faithful, hidden ways. I’ve added a response after each of the Smithsonian’s titles for these dedicated service workers:
Messenger of Sympathy and Love… Bless you!
Servant of Parted Friends… Bless you!
Consoler of the Lonely…Bless you!
Bond of the Scattered Family…Bless you!
Enlarger of the Common Life…Bless you!
Carrier of News and Knowledge…Bless you!
Instrument of Trade and Industry…Bless you!
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance of Peace and of Goodwill Among Men [People] and Nations…Bless you!
For all the ways you bless our lives, may you be blessed, today and always.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind a person who enriches your life through hidden, often unrecognized service.
Ask the Holy One to safeguard their protection and safety.
When possible, communicate your deep gratitude to that person.
Thank the Holy One for creating them and placing them in your life.
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