The Center of a Pandemic


New York City has always thought of itself as the Center of the universe. Well, here we are, 2020, the Epicenter of the USA COVID-19 pandemic! It causes a New Yorker to think.


Living in this center, I am nevertheless at the margins since my age qualifies me as “non-essential” in the pandemic. My only job is to stay indoors and add no burden to the overrun health system. Ministry activities I was active in are now closed to me.


In this situation I seek a center. My heart turns to those who staff our province programs, especially the residential sites since that has been my work for so many years.  GS has well over 200 persons in 24-hour settings across the province. I’ve had confinement with teen youth when snow blizzards or blackouts halted city traffic. But I was safe, I knew the snow would melt and I did not have outside family responsibility.  The staff today does not know when this will end, they do not know if they are safe and they have children and family responsibilities beyond the children in GS care. Still, there they are - truly the center of GS commitment. With smiles on their faces. With resolve. With creativity to keep children peaceful and secure. I think about the staff all the time and think: they are the center of God’s presence, expressions of compassion. I hope they have a moment each day to center themselves through seeing the flowering trees and spring blossoms erupting across our urban environment.


From my own experiences in international work I know well that New York is not really the center of the world. And even though the virus hit hard here, I must say, my spirit is with people and places I have met internationally over the years, many of whom are reaching out these days to ask how I am, how we in New York are!  I think of the oh-so-crowded slums of Mumbai, the primitive refugee camps across the Mediterranean area, the mining districts of Congo, etc. – the places where there is little privacy and where water is scarce for drinking, much less constant hand washing. I think of the simple sentence written to me by a sister in Africa: “We are scared.”  I am scared with her, for her, and I realize that we must hold fear tenderly within the center of spiritual experience.


With all this - center and margin - I pray in new ways with my small community. Sometimes in emptiness or lament. Sometimes on group-internet (zoom) calls.  Or finding new meanings with new poems or the well-known words of Tagore or Rilke. Always, gathering the presence of every person serving GS mission around our prayer candle, often named by name. It can feel non-essential and, yet, I think our mission has always reached from the margin to where we find the mercy and compassion of a God with human heart. And, I think, that is where the center is.


Reflection by Clare Nolan, Good Shepherd, New York