Coronavirus and coronatime, one day at a time

This morning while returning from my daily walk, now reduced to a 100-meter sprint, I glanced at a headline: “Health Ministry expects crisis to peak next winter.”

WE NEED hope (photo credit: REUTERS)
WE NEED hope
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Are you scared? I am.
This morning while returning from my daily walk, now reduced to a 100-meter sprint, I glanced at a headline: “Health Ministry expects crisis to peak next winter.”
Next winter? You mean we’ll be doing this past Hanukkah? My stomach performed a momentary flip and my heart sank. For the first time in my life I wondered about cyanide pills. How do you get them? Do you need a prescription? And most important of all - are they painless?
Oy vey. But then I had another thought: Question authority, a leftover mantra from my youth in the rebellious 1960s. Who says the Health Ministry is right?
Our health minister here in Israel, Ya’acov Litzman, is hassidic. I see him on the news looking somber and all-knowing in his round black hat and long coat, but I bet he’d be the first to say that he’s not a prophet. He doesn’t know. Nobody knows how the corona crisis will play out, nor do we know what will happen next, but we never do.
Though we humans can fly to the Moon, whiten our teeth and even check the contents of our fridges while we’re driving, we aren’t in control of our lives. Uncertainty is built into the human condition. It always has been. Now it’s just more obvious.
These days I’m living by words coined by Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson back in the 1930s. Bill realized that alcoholics couldn’t commit to lifetime sobriety; it was too overwhelming. So he broke the goal down into smaller parts.
“Stay sober one day at a time,” he counselled, and thousands of alcoholics followed his lead. I substitute sobriety with corona quarantine My goal is to live through this day as best I can. If a day seems too long, I can focus on the next hour or half-hour or even the next minute.
But surviving and thriving in corona times require more than living in the present. We need hope.
In high school I learned the “Ani ma’amin” song that some Jews sang on their way to the gas chambers.
“I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may be delayed, I shall wait for him.” This statement is fundamental to Jewish faith, which means you HAVE to believe in it. For years I struggled to wrap my head around this concept.
Who or what is the Messiah anyway? A Semitic superhero on a white donkey? It sounded too weird, to sci-fi. It’s a mystery. No one knows what will happen when the Messiah comes or who the Messiah even is.
Even great rabbis are conflicted. Some describe a magical era when loaves of bread will sprout from trees, while others, most notably Maimonides, say the world will continue on, minus war, strife and poverty.
After seeing all the grim headlines, I had a new insight: Messiah means hope. To survive this, we need enough hope to remind ourselves and our children that this too shall pass, and that better times await us.
That shouldn’t be so hard. Remember, many of us have lived through the Gulf War, two infidadas, droughts, forest fires, balloon bombs, rockets, bus bombings and waves of terrorism. We’ll get through this.
And Judaism is filled with hope. Just read through our prayers, addressed to a Higher Power Who alone “does mighty deeds, creates new things [or creates the news], is the source of miraculous salvation, creates medicines” (including the new COVID-19 vaccine which will one day come our way). For thousands of years Jews have clung to these prayers, through crusades and inquisitions, through pogroms and Auschwitz, Majdanek and Bergen Belsen and now COVID-19.
All Jews cling to hope. It’s no wonder that the Israeli national anthem is called “Hatikva,” “the hope.”
Now we are on lockdown, an entire nation stuck at home, unable to go outside except to get groceries or medicines and take that 100-meter walk. No, this isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time, but put down the cyanide. A better day is coming. This too shall pass and we’ll come through it, one day at a time.
The writer is a grandmother, author, journalist, writing teacher and former Jerusalem Post reporter. She is currently teaching memoir writing on Zoom. For details: [email protected]