By Anne Millington
Lately, at the hospital, people claim to be taking things “one day at a time.”
“One day at a time,” sighs the nursing assistant trying to hold down her job while managing her young children’s remote learning. “One day at a time,” says the anxious son whose father is in the ICU with COVID-19. “One day at a time,” we all chant as we watch the numbers rise and hospital beds fill. Winter approaching, temperatures dropping, we swim around like fish in a lake, helplessly watching the ice form above us and the water cool around us.
And yet, one day at a time, these fish survive each winter – even when the layers of ice are thick enough to hold cars and trucks. As the water around them begins to cool, the fish slow down to conserve their energy, avoiding areas with strong currents that would require them to swim harder. They also head deeper, to the warmer waters at the bottom of the lake.
Like these fish, lately we seem to be slowing down and swimming deeper into ourselves. We continue as best as we can to hold our lives together, all the while noticing “hunkering down” symptoms in ourselves and others. “Ever since COVID, I haven’t been able to read books like I used to,” a patient said. “I just don’t have the concentration.” “Everyone seems so quiet and withdrawn lately,” a staff member noted. “No one is smiling much anymore, no one says much to each other.” “My friends and I aren’t calling and texting as much lately,” a nurse said. “There just doesn’t seem to be anything to say.”
And yet, one day at a time, as we swim slowly in the deep, frigid waters of COVID-19, our eyes may be gradually adjusting to our darkened aquatic landscape. Perhaps we are beginning to appreciate more of our day’s soft and comfortable moments – the amazing cup of coffee, the luxurious heated blanket. Perhaps we are beginning to appreciate more the relationships we have, the gifts we’ve received. “COVID has really taught me how precious life is,” a phone operator recently told me. “I’ve really had time to think about what really matters to me and who really matters to me.”
Particularly in this Thanksgiving week, let’s all remember to give thanks for the gift of each day. Slowly, we may be coming to feel how the deep waters of divine consciousness that surround us and sustain us are in fact expanding within us. We are developing new, broader internal resources to hold space for everything at once – our terrors, our joys, our gifts, our anxieties, our hopes, our resilience. One day at a time, shaped by the cold water, we are developing greater internal depth, greater ability to cope with long-term stress and difficulty, greater faith in our own resilience, greater trust that God can pull us through each day.
Our expanded consciousness in turn prepares us to serve as powerful agents of healing and change in our communities. I think often these days of Abraham Lincoln, a man who weathered loss and battled depression through most of his adult life. Historians note, however, that it was Lincoln’s slow and steady walk with his painful adversities that gave him the depth, the patience, the humility and the strength to navigate the country through civil war and the abolition of slavery.
Eventually, the pandemic will pass – just like the lake thaws and warms every spring. We anticipate this better time, this time when life will “get back to normal.” While post-pandemic life may well be better in many ways, as we look closely we see different challenges on the lake’s horizon. After all, warmer weather brings with it more fishermen, and thus more hooks, nets and other dangers.
Our future will no doubt feature its own injustices, difficulties and tragedies. We will still have to strive for a society that is more inclusive, more humane, more loving. Indeed, life will never be perfect, not this side of the grave. In each and every season, one day at a time is all we ever have – and yet, one day at a time is all we will ever need.
Anne Millington, BCC, is a chaplain at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton, MA.