In 1994 a movie called Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo, was being filmed in a small coastal town in Northern California — right where I happened to live. I was a college student at the time, and one of my classes was dramatic literature. My professor said he received an invitation for his students to be extras in the movie.
Given the nature of the film, where an entire town succumbs to a serious outbreak of a deadly disease, I was told the extras would wear “movie makeup” to make it look like we had boils on our faces and limbs. We would be expected to moan in misery. And if we happened to “die” in a scene, we’d have fake blood pouring from our eyes.
I elected not to be in the film.
This past weekend I watched that movie with my family. And every time the camera panned another crowd of sick and dying patients, my kids would say, “Hey, Mom! That could have been you!”
Yep, that could have been me. The thought makes me crack up.
Even back then I wasn’t much interested in chasing fame, not even 15 minutes of it, especially if it required fake blood squirting from my corneas.
These days, however, there’s an outbreak happening that isn’t just a Hollywood plotline. It’s real. It’s here. And it’s affecting all of us.
The novel coronavirus is spreading faster than we can imagine. Students are being sent home. Businesses are closing down. And lives are being lost. This present pandemic is a serious crisis in countless countries, and not something to dismiss. And yet…
The louder the crisis grows in the world, the more I want to grow quiet in my soul.
In the past few years, I’ve devoted a fair amount of time to considering what it looks like to lead a quiet life in a loud and restless world. I’ve been drawn to Paul’s words from more than two thousand years ago. “Make it your ambition,” he said, “to lead a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). It’s such an odd combination. Nobody pairs the word “ambition” with the word “quiet” — unless you’re after something very different than the common cultural milieu.
So, in the years leading up to this outbreak, one of the ways I sought to lead a quiet life was to radically reduce the amount of time I spent online. I also said no to more projects — projects that would require me to spend long stretches of time in sedentary solitude, sitting alone in front of my computer. Instead, I started going outside more, especially to a nearby park (pictured above) where I can walk four miles a day.
These changes, among others, have led to a really good season — a quiet season — while growing healthier both spiritually and physically. But now? With the coronavirus spreading? My favorite park is closing for the next two months. Tuesday night Bible study at my church is over. Everything at church has moved to online services. My youngest kids, who are both in high school, are now home — possibly for the remainder of the school year. And with social distancing, most of the world has switched to online formats.
It feels like I’m about to go backwards by spending more time online since it is, literally, the only way to connect with friends right now.
I am convinced, however, that this surprising turn of events has not surprised God.
He knew exactly what was coming, and in some ways, I feel better prepared for it. Not prepared in the sense of having lots of supplies stored and ready. (If you read my piece about missing refried beans, you know I’ve not done a huge amount of stockpiling.) But I feel prepared in my heart, knowing that a temporary increase of time on my computer won’t have quite the same effect on me as before, because my priorities have changed.
So how can we lead a quiet life amid a global crisis?
Especially one that requires social distancing and the increased need for online interactions?
Here are a few ways we can lead a quiet life amid a global crisis that requires both more time at home and also more time online.
While at home:
- Keep a routine.
- Set aside a time and a place for reading the Bible.
- Read more books.
- Prepare more home-cooked meals.
- Set the table with the nice dishes.
- Tell more stories.
- Play more board games.
- Finish a puzzle.
- Clean and organize an unruly drawer or closet.
- Learn a new skill. (Hello, YouTube tutorials!)
- Find ways to stay physically active.
- Make a list of the things you’re grateful for.
- Make a list of the people you’re grateful for.
- Write notecards (the kind with stamps!) to those people you’re grateful for.
- Pray for those infected with COVID-19.
- Pray for healthcare workers everywhere.
- Do check on your neighbors.
- Learn a new digital format like zoom or google hangouts.
- Connect with friends through a video conference call.
- Send emails to folks you haven’t heard from in a while.
- Write and share a prayer with a friend.
- Post positive messages on social media.
- Share pictures of something beautiful.
- Use the FaceTime feature on your phone.
- Avoid becoming consumed with all the doom-and-gloom news.
- Simply keep up to date with your state and local governments’ announcements and guidelines.
One more thing. Ask yourself this question:
When this is over, what do I want to be true for me and my family?
And if you’re a parent, ask yourself this question, too:
What do I want my kids to remember about this time?
For me, when this is over, I want to look back on this season as a time when our family grew even stronger and closer together.
In either a flash of brilliance or a stroke of bad luck, I canceled our Netflix account in February having no idea we’d be home-bound for much of March and beyond. I’m choosing to believe it was divine providence. For Valentine’s Day, I purchased a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia for each of my kids. (My husband and I already had our own sets.) I purchased the series on Audible, too, so we could sit together and listen while following along in our books.
I envisioned us reading the series together. Because even though they’re children’s books, you notice things you missed as a kid. They’re great stories to reread as adults.
My grand vision, however, had a few sputtering false starts. Life with teenagers — who have varying after-school-until-evening commitments — means it’s difficult to be together some evenings. And when they are home, they have a lot of homework. So our family read-alouds weren’t happening as much as I had hoped.
But with this “sheltering-in-place” order, we are home and we’ve already finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and we’re currently reading the next book in the series.
When this outbreak has reached its end, my kids are going to remember — among other things — reading the stories of Narnia during this time together.
For that, I am grateful.
When this is over, what do you want to be true for you and your family?