I grew up under communism. It almost feels unreal, like a bad bad dream. Few people still talk about those times. Being born in 1981, I got to experience the last decade of the dictatorship, when our “beloved” leader controlled the people by fear and unfulfilled needs. I remember the long long queues in order to get milk or eggs, with no guarantee that you’d get them. I remember seeing bananas for the first time in my life when I was in second grade in the house of my desk-mate whose dad was an important communist leader, and I remember thinking that they were disgusting (I have changed my mind since then). I remember the illegal stove my dad built in our little apartment, to help us survive the winter cold, because Ceausescu cut all heat and only gave electricity for a short short time during the day, if even. I remember the little cards that my parents had, cards that gave people the small, controlled portions of flour or rice. Everything was decided for you. And it was given to you only if they were available, with no effort being made to truly make them available.
These strange times that we are living now are bringing back some childhood memories. Not the same, it’s true. It is difficult to describe how we did not have ANYTHING in our few stores back then. And today we are not worried about prison and torture for the smallest thing, like for having a pair of sneakers (aka a sign of support for capitalism, not communism), but we are all under this horrible threat, that keeps us all inside (and it’s right to do so, for our safety and the safety of our loved ones).
This photo is from my parents’ pantry, back in Arad. It is from a couple of winters ago. Because of communism, we learned to can and preserve from fruit to vegetables and meats and all that a family needs to survive the long winters. We did not have fresh fruit during winter growing up, because we did not import them. So the only way to have fruit was to make compot, simple boiled fruit with a little sugar and water. We’ve always made our jam and I still love it! We’ve always grown green peas, and we still only eat peas from my parents’ garden. And so on. Hardship teaches people to think ahead, to live simply, and to share, because one thing that I love about my parents is how they share those goodies with us and with so many others in need.
The way we respond to the coronavirus threat is influenced by our own history. And we all have different stories. Some were raised by anxious parents, so we might respond with anxiety. Others respond with self sufficiency. Others with concern for the weaker ones, others with storing things for ourselves, others with sharing. These are the times to remember our own stories, to share more and to listen more, to understand each other more. To see how we can help each other.
One of the things that has always marked the Church was generosity. One of the things that made the underground Church flourish during communism, in spite of terror and torture, was generosity. Christians were known for giving up the little portions of the so-called food they were receiving in prison to the weaker ones, even when the price was death. This is what pointed people to Jesus! This is how Jesus was shown.
I am safely staying in our apartment in Bucharest and I am realizing that these unusual times call for unusual actions. Things feel strange. It seems like staying away is the best way to love these days. And praying. And not judging. And not dismissing. And being compassionate. And yes, sharing, when it is necessary. If you have ideas about how to bring the Lord of Christ, please share. Oh, and one more thing. The best way to love is to be people filled with faith. Does that mean that we don’t feel fear? Are we not allowed to be honest about our emotions so that we can point to our Lord? Oh no! In the Garden of Gethsemane, before the crucifiction, Jesus felt a range of emotions. Raw, brutal, bloody emotions. To feel is not sinful. To act based on feelings can be. Oh, my dear friend, of course you are going to feel fear and uncertainty and sadness. You will have to grieve changes and separation and loss. Don’t minimize your feelings. It is not healthy and it is not honoring God. He is not threatened by them. But do not maximize them, either. Do not let yourself be controlled and led by your emotions. There is hope. And it is bigger than anything you’ve ever had to deal with. The act of surrender into the open arms of a good God, not a detached and careless God, brings life. You can be a person of faith, and still feel all the feelings. And then lift your eyes to heaven and say, “I trust You. You know best. I trust You.” Even if it is just a frail whisper of a tired soul. He receives this faith and will hold you tighter.
“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”