| In the Shadow of Corona |

Twenty Seconds

What do I say to all of them, to each of them? Each expressing their worry or non-worry in a way unique to their nature?

17… 18... 19... 20. I hear her methodically count as she lathers her hands under the water and then turns the tap off. She has meticulously followed CDC instructions regarding how to correctly wash one’s hands. “It’s something of an art form,” the guidelines had read. “A timed, multistep process that can involve some light singing.” I don’t hear her singing, though.

Another daughter has brought home a few hand sanitizers and places them in strategic positions around the house. She hangs up a sign on the front hall mirror that reads in big letters: NOTICE! If you are coming in from outside, please sanitize your hands right away.

“I’m so glad I don’t have internet or texting,” says a married child. “I have no idea what’s going on, and I like it that way. They tell me my child has no school, and we have to be vigilant about going outside and washing hands, but I’m not busy checking in on my iPhone every minute to get the latest horrific updates.”

My son calls me from his last holdout yeshivah and tells me that he and his friends have spent the last hour dancing and singing, “Mashiach is here.”

“I know I’m not going to get the virus,” he says dismissively and slightly arrogantly, as only a 20-year-old can. He’s on a high.

A short while later, his brother calls me from his also last holdout yeshivah and says, “Ma, I don’t feel well. How do I know if I have coronavirus?”

I ask him if he has fever. “No.”

“Shortness of breath?” “No.”

“Are you coughing?” “No. “

“It doesn’t sound like the virus,” I say cautiously. Wanting to be responsible, I add, “But if you’re still not feeling well in a few hours, check it out.” Thankfully, I don’t hear from him again.

Then I catch another refrain of, “Mashiach is coming,” as my young son cartwheels into the house. He’s been coming home every day from school (while there still was school) telling me that his classmate’s uncle who is a rebbee guaranteed that this is it, the beginning of the war between Gog U’Magog, which signals Mashiach’s arrival any day.

“Do you believe it, Mommy?” he keeps asking. “Isn’t that great? Mashiach is here. I’m so excited!” I have to be cautious here too. I don’t want to sound like a heretic — especially to my impressionable son — but I’m frankly not sure I’m ready to jump onto the “if there is a coronavirus pandemic, it must mean Mashiach is arriving” bandwagon.



Besides, his voice is tinged with nervousness. I’m not sure if it’s excitement or underlying anxiety. The next day, he informs me that Isaac Gold’s cousin has corona. And the following day he announces that Levy’s aunt from Chicago has contracted it. He seems to be vacillating between euphoria and anxiety. The only constant is that he always seems to be annoyed with me because I’m not sharing his intensity of the moment.

Later that same day, my 20-second hand washer confides in me. “I want to just get it already, then it’ll be over and done with.”

I look at her blankly. “Huh?”

“I know I’m going to get the coronavirus,” she patiently explains, “so I just want it to be over with already.”

What do I say to all of them, to each of them? Each expressing their worry or non-worry in a way unique to their nature?

One I need to calm down, to tell her we are in good Hands. Clean Hands. The cleanest Hands. Hashem watched over us yesterday, He is watching over us today. He took care of us yesterday, He will take care of us tomorrow.

To another I might need to say, Mashiach is absolutely on his way, sheifeleh, but as the last one to know exactly when he was coming was Yaakov Avinu, we still need to take the recommended precautions.

And what about my own emotions? Aside from the at- least- ten times a day I’m convinced I’ve contracted the disease and am fleetingly envisioning how my family would react if I, G-d forbid, succumbed to it, I’m feeling detached from the hysteria around me. I’m happy about my dissociation, though I’m not sure why.

Maybe the idea of a planet-wide pandemic is too big to digest. Maybe it irks me that the idea of Mashiach’s imminent arrival is being touted as a novel concept, as if it hasn’t been brought up after each major world event for the past 2,000 years.

I want to remain hopeful, but I don’t want to be disappointed. Again.

Maybe I’ve seen Hashem’s loving intervention too much in my life to discount His presence now.

Honestly, I don’t know.


And perhaps those three words are precisely what I need to be saying to my children when they turn to me for answer.

I — don’t — know.

No human does. But that’s okay.

Because our Father does.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 687)


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