Punching Through the Wall
Fr. Tony’s Letter to the Trinitarians
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-4)
Few people who see me today—rotund, Friar-Tuck-corpulent, walking with a slight limp at times—would imagine that once I was a runner, or, even more, that I once completed a Marathon. I ran in the Taiwan Marathon in early spring 1989, and completed it in just shy of 4 hours. I had been training for a year, with increasingly long weekend runs in the mountains north of Taipei. I would have made a much better time, but, despite my training efforts, I “hit the wall” at about mile 20.
“The wall” is a common, much feared experience in marathon running: your body’s glycogen stores in your muscles run out, and there is no energy to keep them moving. I experienced it as a paralysis in my legs: any attempt to move my legs brought excruciating pain. It usually means you have to quit, and not complete the race. But my running coach had warned me before hand—even if you hit the wall, it is possible to keep in the race. You must use associating thinking not dissociative. You just have to focus on what’s going on inside your head and heart, and not on the outside things about you: the music, the crowds, the landscape, and especially the mile markers. You focus on your determination to move forward, not on the pain in your legs or how slow you’re moving. It worked; I basically hobbled along in a half walk that last 6 miles. But I finished. With knowledge of that accomplishment (a life goal I had had), and a sharp memory of that wall, I never ran a Marathon again.
We are in the final stages of getting through the Pandemic. With the production and distribution of immunizations, we should be able to return to somewhat normal life in the next six months. I look forward to the day we can again celebrate Eucharist together, take Eucharist to the homes of shut-ins, and make relaxed and confident pastoral care calls. I look forward to a return of our village’s social and artistic life, including the theater and music. I look forward to eating out together with friends at restaurants here.
But we still are in a second surge, with record high infection, hospitalization, and death rates. It will be months before adequate numbers can be immunized to provide some safety from the virus. It is important—now more than ever—to scrupulously follow prescribed hygiene, masking, and physical distancing rules. It seems, though, that many of us are “hitting the wall.” Tired of the isolation and fear, some of us seem to be throwing caution to the wind and relaxing our efforts for public health. But we must not do this. It would be truly tragic to get through a year of pandemic harshness only to sicken and die—or make others sicken and die—in the last 3 months of it because we simply had “had enough.”
Symptoms of such psychological fatigue are all about us. We see rudeness, snippiness, and even downright hateful acts daily; these seem to be classic expressions of “transference,” taking our pain and suffering out on others, and blaming others for what are our own besetting faults. We saw a good example recently in the vandalism at one of our neighboring churches: laxness by their ministers in following guidelines set off anti-religious anger among others, who defaced the church, as if such an act would somehow undo previous superspreading events. We see it not only in the anti-science denial of fact by some supporters of the outgoing President, but also in the left-wing blanket blaming of right-wingers for being superspreaders, or in the ambient anti-vaxxing crackpottery of Ashlandia.
Just as runners can only break through the wall by focusing on the interior need to move on and ignoring the outside detracting factors, so too we can make it through this last burst of the pandemic’s energy by focusing on our own interior life: calmness, acceptance, and a determination to be attentive to the public hygiene rules. We should eschew blaming others for the relentless logic of the biology of viruses. We should forsake lying to ourselves and others, especially when the lies make us feel good. A simple daily practice of repeating, mantra-like, for several minutes the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner”) might help restore balance and equanimity as we hobble forward in these last 6 miles….
Grace and Peace. Fr. Tony+