A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, August 2020

Contagion

At the very beginning of my junior year of high school, I caught the most stubborn, demoralizing case of mononucleosis. I had just completed an arduous preseason of field hockey with my tight-knit varsity team, and I was excitedly looking forward to the regular season ahead. I was initially unconcerned when I could barely raise my head off the pillow one morning, chalking it up to overexertion under the hot Virginia sun. But after my mom dragged me to the doctor days later, I was teenage-girl-level-devastated to learn that I had mono. 

My first thoughts: no friends, no homecoming dance, no hockey, no fun. Noooooo!

It is almost comical to recall the petty thrill that momentarily lifted my spirits when I discovered that several of my hockey teammates were also diagnosed with mono later that week. As they say, misery loves company. Apparently the water bottles we had been passing around in the middle of sprints allowed us to share more than hydration. But much to my immature dismay, each of my teammates bounced back almost immediately. I, on the other hand, watched from the sidelines, behind windows, and through heavy eyelids as the world seemed to pass me by that year. My parents were concerned and likely more than a little exasperated as my case worsened over the following six months (which also included two private tutors, one strength trainer, countless tears) before finally subsiding in the springtime. It is mystifying to imagine how the course of that critical, penultimate year of my high school career could have been wholly different if perhaps I had only brought my own water bottle to practice… 

Germs and contagion seem to be on everyone’s mind these days. How long do germs live on surfaces? And once airborne, how far do they travel? The novel coronavirus almost seems to have taken on the status, unpredictability, and omnipresence of a supervillain from a graphic novel. And a snapshot of our current cultural norm appears similarly futuristic and science-fictional. I mean, if you had told any of us last year that we would spend the greater part of 2020 wearing face masks, we certainly would not, could not have believed it! Yet, here we are.

Now back to the simpler days of the late 90s: 

The summer after that fateful junior year (which we refer to as the “mono blur”), I worked in the mailroom of my father’s law firm, sifting letters and delivering bank statements. It was a rather mind-numbing task that I both appreciated for the extra pocket change and loathed for the dress code that required me to purchase my first dreaded pair of pantyhose. But I quickly learned an important lesson about another form of contagion, a work-place phenomenon that exists regardless of the setting. We had two rotating supervisors in the mailroom that summer, one gentleman who was like sunshine incarnate and the other fellow… who was markedly less so. When the “Sunshine” supervisor walked into that cramped office space, he would warm up those overly air-conditioned walls and light up the blinking fluorescent bulbs with his greetings and smiles and songs. In fact, I could not help but smile myself each time I heard his joyful old whistle coming down the hall. In stark juxtaposition, it was quite evident that the complaints and general discontent festered on the days when the “Gray Cloud” supervisor was in charge as he coldly ordered us around, rarely greeting us with more than a derisive nod. Eye rolls, quiet gripes, and passively rude comments ruled the space on those days. 

These twin memories from over two decades ago keep popping up in my mind recently. Both were lessons in contagion. 

How quickly we unintentionally pass on invisible entities to another.

How catching and contagious human interaction can be.

We have all been there when the atmosphere of a room perceptibly alters— for better or for worse— the moment someone enters. We all know what it feels like to “catch” someone else’s mood, and how it affects not only our outlook in that moment but also our inner thoughts and outer actions for many moments afterward.

Perhaps we would do well in this bizarre time of pandemic to focus on what else we are spreading to our children, our spouses, our communities. Are we buoying each other up in life-giving encouragement? Or are we misery seeking company, pulling each other down into our spirals of anxiety like an undertow? Perhaps it is just as socially righteous at this very moment to keep not only our germs tucked harmlessly away behind our masks, but to put our potentially toxic negativity on lockdown, too. 

Time and again, God asks us, His children, to send up our anxieties in prayer to Him and to unshoulder our knapsacks of disappointment at His feet. He can handle it. He is infinitely strong, and He loves us with all His might. May His words of comfort nestle deeply into our souls in the most stubborn, reassuring ways. And may His light shine through each of us like sunshine incarnate, so that we may spread His goodness and be agents of His contagious joy.  

Amen.

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