One year ago this weekend, I enjoyed an early celebration of my 65th birthday party. At that point, the United States had registered 60 cases of the novel coronavirus. Each day following that party the alarm bells grew. Two weeks later on March 8, the Sanctuary Choir and Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia presented a glorious concert of works by French composers. When I peeked through the doors into the Sanctuary on March 8 and saw how few people had shown up for the concert, I realized that our world was about to be turned upside down.
Four days later I wrote to the choir, announcing that we would take two weeks off to allow everyone to “catch their breath” in the midst of the uncertainty around the growing concerns of a possible pandemic in the United States. The following day, the country (and BMPC) shut down. That same day, in an email from my Dean at the Yale School of Music, I was notified of an emergency meeting that would be conducted on an app called “Zoom.” Our world was changing rapidly, and I’m not sure any of us realized just how profoundly those changes would upset our lives.
The reality of the weeks that followed – staggering lines at grocery stores, shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, masks, and hand sanitizer, and around-the-clock national anxiety – now seem like a distant, surreal memory. We began to learn how to run virtual choir rehearsals (“Zoom sessions”), council meetings, and dinners. We gathered at a socially safe distance around fire pits and made masks out of T-shirt fabric and coffee filters (which now seems downright amusing to me). We have grown addicted to curbside pickup and have guaranteed a permanent role for online shopping. We have embraced the idea of “friend pods” and Facebook Live concerts. And, with my Brazilian mother-in-law’s death from COVID-19 in November, the strange comfort of virtual memorial services hit close to home.
What strikes me most about all of this is how incredibly resilient a people we have become. In James 1:2-4 we read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
This week I received my first vaccine dose. What I witnessed at the vaccination site on South Street was pure joy. From the old woman being helped out of her wheelchair to receive her first vaccine, to the young nurse who gave me mine, to the doctor checking to make sure nobody was having adverse reactions to the vaccine, to the young man who enthusiastically gave everyone an N95 mask as a gift for coming in, pure joy abounded.
Each of us has faced personal trials. We now face a communal trial of unimaginable depths and challenges. As God’s people, we can rejoice that this is a journey not traveled alone, but together. This is a journey for resilient people who are filled with pure joy in the knowledge that we travel with the love of Christ surrounding us. So, people of resilience, rejoice!
A sign in the choir loft hallway reminding singers what they will sing that morning. We have left this in place as a reminder of where we were a year ago.