A Lesson From My Father
In the early days of the pandemic, it seemed that death, the lockdowns, and the uncertainty of what was to come loomed heavily over my family. By early April, two family members had passed during this time, and somehow, I knew nearly a dozen other people who had also passed away. Consequently, I was having a difficult time making sense of what I was experiencing.
Today, the effects of the pandemic appear to be ebbing around most of the world. Cities and states are lifting mask mandates; the arguments about the vaccines are subsiding; and people are socially reconnecting with their loved ones. Here, in South Louisiana, the greatest evidence of that reconnection came in the form of a Mardi Gras for the record books; locals and visitors, alike, reveled in the streets and gathered at parties and balls all across the region. Meanwhile, much of the rest of America has been heading back to the workplace with less trepidation than we’ve seen in recent months, as the seven-day rolling averages of new infections, alongside the death rates from the virus, have plunged. So, at the risk of saying it prematurely, for the first time in two years, life seems almost normal again.
Of course, all of this could change again, if a new variant of the virus emerges with a high capacity for communal spread or, even worse, a worrisome severity of disease. But those in the scientific community are hopeful, for now, that such a variant has not been identified, and that gives many in the general public a lot of optimism.
So, as we walk into a new phase of this pandemic, I have been reflecting on the events experienced two years ago, and I have been thinking a lot about a conversation that I had with my father at that time. My dad, J. Lee Harrell, has always been known for his cogent and timely messages. The pastor of a historic Baptist church in Southwest Mississippi, he has always spoken in a manner that transcribed the tenets of faith into practical instruction, and in that conversation, following those losses in our family, his words to me were no different. In fact, his words were so instructive that, at the time, I thought to grab a pen. Today, two years after they were spoken, I wanted to share what I originally wrote…
Trouble seemed to loom around everyone in those days. Few of us could escape the impact of the virus on our daily lives, our families, our jobs, the economy, and the country, and for that reason, we seemed to be drowning in uncertainty. To that end, my dad began by saying that, as people of faith, we had to remember and accept that this life could not be without its share of troubles. Often enough, those troubles will seem so great, much as they have for all of us. Nevertheless, Dad said, in times like these, “Lean on what you know and who has brought you this far. And that is, and [has] only been through, faith in God.”
Sometimes, and particularly in troubling times, it is difficult to stand upright in that faith. The adversity seems overwhelming, and when you are knee-deep in those times, honestly, things feel as if they are getting worse at a stunning click. For me, at the time, we were only three weeks into the pandemic — and so many lives lost. Another phone call — and news of yet another friend sick. The worry and the heartache — knowing others were suffering, but being able to do nothing — it all got to be a lot. Admittedly, I just kept saying, in my own way, “let this cup pass from me.” To be sure, it was not that my faith was not strong, but honestly, I was tired.
Yeah, I was just tired of it all. Those weeks had been exhausting for us all. There had been no escaping the grief, the fear, the recalcitrant leadership, the barrage of dubious information, the anxiety of an uncertain economic future, and even the restlessness that chafes the nerves… Yeah, I was tired. We were all feeling it. But I knew that I had to keep my faith, no matter how completely it had been shaken. I had to find a way to power on.
I didn’t have any powerful or epiphanic words to articulate how I was doing that. Proselytizing about how one keeps his faith — about how any of us would, like Jesus did in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane, accept God’s Will ahead of our own — well, that was a task better left to smarter, biblical scholars, which I still am certainly not…
All I could say was that, through the many changes spawned by the ordeal, I had simply turned to what I knew in order to remain centered — my writing. It was remarkable how calming this was for me; I could not tell you how many pages of content had poured out of me, in those days, when life was unmoored from its normal routine. However, looking back over two years, the count of pages was in the tens of thousands. And to be honest, that — my ability to easily put thoughts and ideas onto paper — was the panacea that kept me faithful and helped me to crowd the hours in constructive ways, probably because work remedies an idle mind, and probably because I genuinely believe that this creative talent comes through me, not from me. Anyway, be it of a psychological or spiritual benefit, writing helped me cope.
In that conversation with my father, he also said this: “We can’t lose hope. We can’t lose trust. We can’t lose faith. Those things will give us strength to get through our circumstances. We have to give it all over to God — and be still.” Indeed, having faith neither alleviates trouble nor does it mean that the worry about our circumstances goes away. Instead, we just have to give those circumstances over to a higher and more powerful authority, and trust that all things will be made right according to His Will. To that end, based on my own experience, all things typically are.
Yes, things are made right; they do work out. And we do get through tough times, whether those times are birthed in life’s basic upheavals or a society-altering pandemic. It is important for us to remember that, even when our emotions are heavy, and our outlook is grim. And here is where I think my father’s closing perspective on the sufficiency of God’s love was particularly insightful.
Dad said, “His mercy meets our misery. His Grace meets our grief.”
Together, those two short sentences could possibly be the single, most important bookend to the strange and tragic moment from which we are ascending, because, no matter how bad things got, God was always with us. And we know that to be true, both because our faith and trust in Him and, well, because we are still here, still breathing, still able to do so many great things... So we power on. I power on.
I wanted to revisit this message, because I believe that it is truly important for us to remember the lessons that we’ve all learned in the last two years. As life ramps up for so many of us, no one will want to look back at those challenging days, and it might be very easy to forget a lot of what that time has taught us. So I thought it appropriate to put just some of those words in this space.
Thanks for indulging me. Remember to be conscientious, encouraged, kind, and safe.