On an average workday — or even weekend — sheltering in place is isolating. But with Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, there is a particular poignancy to the isolation. These major religious holidays are important social gatherings, marked by time spent in group settings breaking bread or matzah with family and friends, and sharing stories passed on quite literally from generation to generation at a special time of year.
We gather in our communities, our places of worship, and our homes, and we celebrate. We hide and hunt for candy filled eggs, or a hidden napkin-wrapped Afikoman, or wait until dusk to gather around and enjoy the Iftar meal together after the day’s fast has come to an end. We do so not alone but in the company of family and friends and with hearty laughter and conversation. We are alive and we are grateful, whether for the resurrection, the freedom from slavery in Egypt, or for the revelation of the Quran.
For so many, adhering to social distancing at this particular time of year creates a particularly painful sense of loss as we feel our families being kept apart. Separating from our loved ones during erstwhile times of familial closeness and spiritual renewal is a very high price to pay, even when intellectually we understand why we must.
I make no secret of the fact that I miss having my family around me. While I’ve been at home with my husband and dog, my three adult children are 400 miles away. My mother, my siblings and their families are all isolating in their homes. If it weren’t for the current state of the world, we would be getting together every Friday evening around my dining room table for a giant family meal. While sheltering in place these last three weeks, we have missed celebrating my 8-year-old niece’s birthday, my sister’s birthday, my brother-in-law’s birthday, and now both Passover seders.
One of my employees missed her annual Holy Week masses, where she’s usually singing in her church choir. She didn’t take her kids out to buy fancy Easter clothes this year, and their Easter baskets weren’t filled with quite as many goodies. The big family dinner, filled with aunts and uncles and cousins, was canceled. Instead, she delivered home-cooked meals to grandparents while Uncle Tim knocked at the door to make funny faces at her kids through the window just to try and stay connected until he is able to hug them again.
Consider the impact on just one element of religious celebrations: food. We’re not going out to buy groceries as often, and when we do we are donning masks and visors, gloves and hand sanitizer, suiting up for germ warfare. And after all the precautions are taken, selections are limited. Will I win the toilet paper lottery today? My brother called from Safeway today to let me know that a 12-pack was available for $20, and my husband practically flew out the front door at warp speed. I’ve never been more attracted to him. Well, except for last week when he actually vacuumed the stairs. It may be harder than usual to locate authentic ingredients for traditional recipes — and cooking for one or two people isn’t as much fun as cooking for a large group. But we have to try. We have to push through and make the memory of the COVID-19 Easter or COVID-19 Seder or COVID-19 Ramadan that we will tell our grandkids about.
Indeed, religious celebrations are happening: in our homes, with immediate family members, and virtually, online with our larger, extended families and faith communities. The Easter bunny made a visit before virtual masses streamed over YouTube. My sister and I will sing together though miles apart at the seder dinner over Zoom, and families will break their fast together at the Iftar meal on WhatsApp after the sun sets. Just like we’ve had to adjust to a new normal at work, we’re being given an opportunity to make sacrifices and explore alternative ways to stay meaningfully connected.
But all is not lost. What a perfect time to reflect upon what we do have, and why we’re sheltering in place to begin with. We want to protect our loved ones — and others’ loved ones — so we can come together again, in happiness and health. So while our religious convictions and practices, if we have them, are being tested in a way that’s perhaps challenging, we can choose to use this time to truly count our blessings. I’m going to try to count mine.
So here’s to your health, to your family’s health, and to our COVID-19-free, connected future.