He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.—Luke 16:10
This year, St. Patrick’s Day here in southeastern Michigan was exceptionally lovely. I spent the bright, sunny day, however, inside my elderly mother’s quaint apartment at her assisted-living facility. After yet another visit to the ER, she had been sent back home and this time placed in hospice care as a result of congestive heart failure, kidney failure, and several other ailments that come from being almost ninety-four years old. The doctors said it would be only a matter of days before she passed away.
It was one of the loneliest and most challenging times of my life.
It’s never easy to lose a loved one, but having it happen in the middle of a pandemic causes all kinds of additional anxiety and emotional stress. It felt as if I were being engulfed by a deep fog of grief and confusion.
No one knew how this pandemic would work itself out. Even now, none of us know.
Normally, visiting my mom, Rosie, was an absolute delight. The assisted-living center was always decorated beautifully and filled with fun activities. I often joked with her that I enjoyed her place more than she did. At least three afternoons a week, they offered great entertainment in the lobby. There was happy hour every Friday at 3:00 p.m., which you’d better believe I rarely missed. There were prayer groups, Bible studies, and a weekly Mass for Catholic residents. It was wonderful to see my mother doing what she could in her limited capacity, for the two years she resided there, trying to make the most of it.
By St. Patrick’s Day, thanks to COVID-19, all those activities had come to a screeching halt, not just for Mom, but for all the residents. Since many of the virus-related deaths in the United States and Europe were occurring among the elderly, nursing homes and assisted-living centers were among the first locations to go into serious lockdown. Visitors were allowed only for emergency or life-and-death situations. At my mother’s location, no one could enter without first having his or her temperature taken and filling out a long health questionnaire. Overnight, the atmosphere went from upbeat to somber.
As I was sitting in my mother’s room, listening to her labored breathing, I thought that, if life were normal, the apartment would have been filled with her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and her many friends, both old and new.
Without them, it felt very strange.
As those thoughts were crossing my mind, I heard a knock at the door. One of the employees told me to go to the large picture window. Outside, there was a surprise waiting.
Although my mother remained sound asleep, I described to her what was happening. Right outside her window, there was a very cheerful woman with two very large dogs. The dogs were decked out in St. Patrick’s Day garb: shamrocks, shimmery bright green tutus, and other bling. Apparently, as I later learned, the dog owner lived in the neighborhood and was very concerned about the residents feeling alone and isolated—especially on a day when there normally would be a lot of celebrating. So she dressed up her pups and took her time doing window visits to each of the apartments. Keep in mind that although this is only a one-story facility, there are dozens of apartments: probably close to seventy residents. As you can imagine, her visits probably took her all afternoon and then some.
I was so moved that I went outside to thank her and the employees making the rounds with her. If it impacted me, imagine the impact it had on the elderly stuck inside.
My mother died two days later, on the feast of St. Joseph. The St. Patrick’s Day scene outside her window was cemented in my mind and kept me going as we began to pack her things and prepare for her funeral.
Yes, the actions of the St. Pat’s visitor might pale in comparison with the amazing feats of the tireless medical personnel, EMS workers, and others on the frontlines who continue to fight this invisible enemy while often putting their own health and safety in harm’s way. But I share this story with you because I’m quite certain, knowing the media as well as I do, that her actions would not be deemed newsworthy enough to make the rounds on the talks shows, Twitter, or Facebook. It might have been a small deed, but for me it was a big deal. God was providing me with some badly needed blue skies on a dreary day, reminding me that I was not alone.
When we look at all the bills that pile up on our desks each month, eliminating just one of them might be considered a nice little break, but no big deal in the overall financial scheme of things—unless, thanks to the economic fallout of the coronavirus, you’re among the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs or are among those having a tough time in general making ends meet. That’s why Brooklyn Catholic landlord Mario Salerno decided to waive the April rent for all—yes, all—of his two hundred tenants. He did not divulge to the Catholic media outlet EWTN News just how much the gracious “little” gift cost him. He did share that his Catholic faith led to his decision.
And I’m guessing that the mini concerts given by Italian opera singer Maurizio Marchini from his balcony were a big hit for residents of Florence, Italy. On March 11, sixty million people across Italy went on quarantine in their homes. The beautiful streets of this Renaissance city were deserted, as were the streets in the rest of the nation. This famous vocalist didn’t do just one impromptu concert, but several. The original video of Marchini belting out the popular Puccini aria “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot went viral and prompted other balcony concerts of all shapes, sizes, and sounds throughout the country.
The United Kingdom’s newspaper the Guardian reported a huge response to a social media invitation calling for anyone who played an instrument to go to his or her balcony or window to perform. More videos of Italian citizens in lockdown continued to circulate on social media. One clip shows several residents singing a traditional song from their windows. A few days after all the music began, the Italians chose a Saturday afternoon to honor the medical community by opening the shutters, leaning out of their windows, and offering a nationwide round of applause. They applauded, sang, danced, and played their favorite instruments to boost the morale of their fellow Italians.
They exhibited, as did my mother’s sweet St. Patrick’s Day visitor, that no gift of one’s time and talent is too small when it comes to conquering sadness and fear. Their actions also prove that although coronavirus is extremely contagious, so is kindness.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Teresa Tomeo’s latest book, Conquering Coronavirus: How Faith Can Put Your Fears to Rest. It is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.