Love in the time of coronavirus

Let’s face it: the pandemic has seriously messed with our ritual celebrations and holidays.

Last year, the first surge came just in time to scuttle any plans my wife and I might have made for our birthdays. Easter dinner with the family was cancelled. We wanted to have a special celebration for our 42nd wedding anniversary (fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will understand why) but couldn’t. Then another surge torpedoed our Thanksgiving routines. Then Christmas.

And, oh yes — as I’ve mentioned here before, my mother died of COVID on Christmas Day. With my mother confined to her room, with all the precautions taken by her assisted living facility to keep residents safe, someone still brought the virus into the community. Since then, it seems every day brings more grim news by text or email. The prayer requests just keep coming.

So before I forget: Happy Valentine’s Day.

Okay. I’m going to let Mr. Curmudgeon take a nap now.

These days, it seems everyone wants to produce a project called Love in the Time of Corona or Love in the Time of Coronavirus. It’s a play on the title of Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1985 novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, an unconventional love story that makes the standard Hollywood rom-com look hopelessly idealistic and naive. These contemporary projects are asking similar questions: what happens to our romantic pursuits in a time of social distancing?

I haven’t “dated” in close to half a century, so I’m not going to play the authoritative expert here (that’s Doctor Curmudgeon to you!). Let me put this question out there instead: if the pandemic “ruins” our Valentine’s plans, what is it we were really intending to celebrate?

Love?

What kind?

I could ask similar questions about 2020. Our family Easter plans were scuttled, but does that mean we were prevented from celebrating the resurrection? Does the lack of a Thanksgiving foodfest make gratitude impossible? If the pandemic kept us from gathering for Christmas, did we therefore miss our chance to wonder at the miracle of the Incarnation?

And if pandemic restrictions mean we can’t go to our favorite restaurant for Valentine’s Day…well, you get the idea. If you need to, light some candles and order in. Then ask yourself what love is really about.

As of this writing, the news about COVID is encouraging — for a change. The infection rate is trending downward. Because an unthinkably vast number of people have already had the virus, and vaccination has begun in earnest, some believe that we’re in the early stages of herd immunity. It helps that more people seem willing to wear masks, though sadly, this may be because the reality of the virus has become all too concrete in recent months, as friends and family tested positive.

But if it’s true that we’re witnessing a reversal — and that’s a big “if” — then this is not the time to relax our vigilance.

There’s nothing wrong with romantic love or its celebration. But it’s not the greatest commandment, nor even the second. Love in the time of coronavirus means loving God and neighbor by doing what we can to keep each other safe; I will bear the inconvenience of health protocols because, out of love, I don’t want to be the one guilty of unknowingly spreading the virus to you.

And that’s a vaccine we don’t have to stand in line for.

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