For most of American society, the past nine months have presented challenges beyond anything ever imagined. In March, the pandemic arrived with a sudden force that required most of the country to shut down.
Colleges and universities sent students home; businesses closed; and tens of millions of workers began to work from home, often with school children also at home trying to complete their work. We began receiving daily reports on the number of new cases, the number of those hospitalized, and the number of those who had died the previous day, reminiscent of the daily death tolls announced during the Vietnam War.
We adopted new ways of living and being. We acquired masks. We began to learn the importance of maintaining physical distance, of washing our hands with more discipline, and of monitoring our health each day. We began to meet friends outdoors where we could keep our distance. We stopped shaking hands and hugging.
The cumulative impact was enormous. Unemployment skyrocketed. More and more people began to be personally impacted by the virus as loved ones became ill or, in the most tragic circumstances, died.
The summer brought a long overdue national reckoning with race as more unarmed Black persons were killed by authorities, right in front of our very eyes. Across the country people came together to confront the evil of systemic racism and to demand change. It is not easy work. It will not be accomplished overnight. And sadly it is work that is met with significant resistance by those who deny the underlying causes that make the work so essential.
We endured an election cycle that reminded us of the deep divisions that permeate our society. The discourse of the season, though not unprecedented in American politics, revealed the worst of our instincts. Our better angels were too often nowhere to be found.
It is difficult to overstate the cumulative impact of these months on us, individually and collectively. For too many people, there have been too many days when the prevailing emotions were fear, anxiety, uncertainty, dread, and a profound sense of loss. We all have been there.
Several weeks ago I awakened in the night, as has happened all too often over the past eight months. But on this occasion I awakened to the echo of the words of a hymn.
“Morning by morning, new mercies I see.”
The words come from the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness, inspired by this passage from the book of Lamentations.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
In the gift of that moment, I resolved to enter each day not by first thinking about the stress and anxiety, but by asking myself, what new mercies may I see this day?
For all of its disruptions, the changes wrought by COVID-19 have provided me with undeserved and abundant opportunities and mercies.
Circumstances that only COVID-19 produced allowed us to have our 4-year-old grandson for four weeks this fall.
The need to work remotely in late spring allowed me to spend time with my mother, now 92, that otherwise would not have been available, and will never return.
I have connected multiple times with friends by Zoom, including a reunion with college classmates from more than 40 years ago.
The inability to travel has given Melissa and me more time together than at any time in our 37-year marriage.
I have learned new ways to work with individuals and colleagues both near and far.
I have learned, in the words of OWU alumna Maggie Smith and with the help of her new book, to “Keep Moving.”
I have learned to begin the day by thinking not about what is missing, but about what is present.
I have learned to be grateful.
Great is thy faithfulness; great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
Rock Jones is president of Ohio Wesleyan University and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.