Millennials seem to have a knack for living inside our own heads. Being cooped up in one space for a prolonged period of time hasn’t exactly made this any easier. Taken out of my normal routine, my thoughts have started spiraling without the chance to be checked by the world outside my head.
The fact that now all of my work and interactions with people are mediated through some kind of technological device does little to break down the divide between my dizzied thoughts and the real world. Being in the same room, using the same three devices for work, leisure, and everything in between makes my days feel like they’re drowning into an amorphous blob as my affairs start bleeding into each other.
As I’m on a Zoom call on my iPad, I get a text from someone who asks me if I read some NYTimes article. As I try to make it seem like I’m still looking at my webcam, I scroll through the article, when the “suggested content” sidebar catches my attention, only to tell me that I’ve hit the pay wall. I try in desperation to find a way around it, when the call finally ends, and I decide to take a break from work to watch the Pope’s daily Mass. He decides to take a little extra time to adore the exposed Eucharist, and I start itching, wondering when he’s going to finish so I can close out of the YouTube tab to open up my email and see if my students submitted their work.
This liquid-like experience of reality feeds me the illusion that I can control everything. I can speed Mass along to fit my whims. I can multitask during a boring conference call without getting caught. I can do it all…except manage my own fragile will power, and pull myself out of my spinning mind. But the Pope’s words at one of his recent homilies snatched my attention:
Am I capable of weeping, as Jesus would certainly have done and does now? Is my heart like Jesus’s? Ask the Lord for this grace: Lord, that I might weep with You, weep with your people who are suffering right now. Many people are weeping. We ask the grace to weep with Jesus who was not ashamed to weep. May today be for everyone like a Sunday of tears.
I feel the Pope’s words forging a crack in the wall diving me from the world beyond my thoughts, beyond the virtual world I’m swimming in. In the midst of my vapid distractions, people are losing their jobs. Some are out working, running the risk of exposing themselves to the virus, fearing they won’t be able to feed their families…on top of lacking access to adequate healthcare. There are wars and violence ravaging people who are not deemed worthy to be given a moment of news coverage between the endless loop of new “discoveries” about the pandemic.
And for a moment, I do weep. For those who are on the peripheries. For those who are forgotten…who don’t have the time or the resources to worry about how much time they’re wasting on Instagram, or about how much of an “impostor” they are. There is little I can do for these people. Besides praying for them, offering some of my material resources where possible, I’m faced yet again with my limitations. I can’t “fix” the suffering of the world. I can’t even fix my own shortcomings.
As I savor the Pope’s words, I’m given perspective. Instead of dwelling on those thoughts in my head, or letting myself swipe between tabs and apps, I allow my fragility to give way to a question. “Why?” And I unite my “why?” to those of others around the world who I will never meet. And I weep. I weep in solidarity with them.
Suddenly I find myself out of my head, caught up in a virtual experience of unity, which is more real than my self-evaluations or anything I’ve seen on a screen during these days. This reality of unity, this community of criers, gives me a glimpse of my humanity once again. I rediscover how these tasks I have to carry out to today and the people with whom I’ll communicate, even if on a screen, ask for me to offer a bit of my humanity.
And my humanity remains fragile. I don’t have any answers or solutions. I don’t know when this quarantine will end. But perhaps it’s not in knowing the answers that we find a way out. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s in embracing the unknown, the Mystery of our own fragility, of the suffering of the other, which forms the common thread that weaves our interconnectedness as human beings, that I start to find my way again.