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My Third Pandemic Pesach: This is not the end of me, this is the beginning

Two years ago, I celebrated Pesach (Passover) as what felt like literal redemption from death by Covid. I felt deep, visceral gratitude. I felt...saved. There was a sweetness in my mouth and it wasn't just that tap water tasted weirdly sweet after my sense of taste and smell came back! (So weird! Tap water tasted as sweet as flat orange soda.) I felt the sweetness of living after I was worried that I literally would not survive the night. 

Being able to taste salvation on my tongue and feel it throughout my body, as my lungs filled with air and as my muscles recovered from 18 days in my apartment--it was palpable and a unique experience. Singing Hallel with an actual feeling of joy and gratitude for redemption from a dark and lonely place was a singular experience. Coming out of Covid infection, hypoxia, pneumonia, solitude at home, into the Paschal celebration was unique and I hope nothing similar ever happens again, or at least not for a very long time, because I hope that I'm never again (or at least not for a long time) that close to death. It's not something I want or need to feel every Pesach! The memory of it from 5780 is enough to sustain me for the rest of my life, I think.

(I know that salvation sometimes feels like a Christian idea to us Jews, but Pesach is also about salvation from slavery, from life that feels close to death. Pesach is the time that we celebrate historical redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It's not unusual to expand that idea of redemption from slavery to redemption from other things, sometimes symbolically seen as analogous to the leaven that we rid from our homes.)

A year ago, things were different. I celebrated Pesach with a bit of optimism and hope that my sojourn through Long Covid was coming to an end. I had more energy over Pesach than I'd has in awhile and, in fact, I'd been experiencing a bit of an upswing in energy levels since Purim time.

This year, things are more complicated. I'm fatigued. Again. Always. I would say that it's been a long slog of fatigue that has been omnipresent--always there or the threat of which is always lurking--since early-ish December. The fatigue got better in the spring of 2021, so I was hoping for a recurrence of hope in the spring of 2022, but so far, no.

I was listening to Christina Perris's song "I believe" while walking to return a book to the library today. It's a great song, but for some reason, I was thinking about Pesach as I was listening to it, and I heard the lyrics in kind of a new way--as the Venn diagram between Covid/Long Covid (they're one and the same for me) and Pesach. I was especially thinking of what the Israelites must have felt as they left the known horrors of slavery in Egypt, facing the Red Sea (that they thought would kill them), and the vast unknown of the desert on the other side.

I am not an Israelite newly freed from the shackles of bondage in Egypt facing the great unknown of what's to come, but...I sort of am. Maybe we all are, as we work out way through the third year of this pandemic, which many declare "over" and that is, yet, still sickening and killing many throughout the world.

Here are my thoughts about some of the specific lyrics of the song:

I believe if I knew where I was going I'd lose my way

I wish I knew where I was going, where this (Long Covid) is going. What is my life going to look like in the next year? The hope I felt a year ago--that it was heading in the right direction--is not at the forefront of my mind this year.

I know that we are not the weight of all our memories

I think part of what's hard about the trauma of having survived Covid and then unexpectedly thrust into a life of chronic illness with Long Covid is that it's not just memories--it's also ongoing. All around us, people are masking (or not), testing positive with Covid (or denying that it's a threat at all), and there's an element of ongoing trauma. Any time a person who has a sore throat and a cough says, "I'm sure it's nothing" and doesn't get tested or wear a high-quality mask around others, we're reminded of both our memories (the horror of our initial illness and ongoing chronic conditions) and that it's not yet over--for us or for others, as much as they might declare it so.

"The weight of our memories" is also a good subtitle for any Jewish celebration. A lot of what we do with our festivals is recall our pasts and ensure that our memories remain alive and visceral, even long past when the historical events occurred--whether that's freedom from the bondage of Egypt, salvation from genocide in Persia, the terror of the destruction of the Temples, or other events from our recollected, national, historical/mythological past. We weigh those memories down heavy--with liturgy, with food, with celebrations, with gatherings--so they don't float away or disappear.

And I have felt the pain of losing who you are

The pain of losing who I am could be the subtitle for a Long Covid memoir (a bitter one, were one to write one like that).

 It's...insane. It's quite painful to go through a traumatic Covid illness (as I and many others did--others who end up with Long Covid were only mildly ill at the beginning, but some of us were quite ill at the outset!) and then to emerge into, in my case:

  1. a world that was completely changed from the one I left (I was last outside in NYC on March 19, 2020 and then got sick before I was able to emerge again in early April, and the difference was shocking--from busy, bustling streets to empty streets, except for a few people jogging wearing bandanas like cartoon bank robbers or old timey bandits), which causes its own kind of dislocation. When I emerged, I was in the same place as I was a few weeks ago, but that place had completely changed. I have never survived a major natural disaster, but I imagine that sense of dislocation is even worse. The place is the same, but completely changed, which makes us feel like we're somewhere entirely new.

  2.  a personhood/selfhood/life that was completely different from what existed before, with no road map or set of directions or, really, much professional support (with a few exceptions)

And I have died so many times, but I am still alive

I got nothing on this, except that I wonder if the Israelites leaving Egypt felt this way. I imagine that living as a slave involves many things that feel like small deaths. I also imagine beholding the ten plagues and then walking into/through the split Red Sea and out the other side all felt something like cheating death. They had died many times, and yet they were still alive.

I did have the "but I am still alive!" feeling many times during my acute illness, especially towards the end, when I went to sleep at night worried that I wouldn't wake up in the morning. Each morning, when I awoke and saw that I was still alive, it gave me a bit of hope, a jolt of gratitude, and a smidge of low-key euphoria.

I believe that tomorrow is stronger than yesterday

And I believe that your head is the only thing in your way

I wish that you could see your scars turn into beauty

I believe that today it's okay to be not okay

I think that this may be my favorite part of the entire song. It sums up a lot, doesn't it? I don't currently believe that tomorrow is stronger than yesterday, but I hope it's true.


I also think that strength can mean different things--the strength to deal with chronic illnesses and the challenges of life--not only physical strength. And in that sense, perhaps one becomes stronger over time, as one collects more and more tools for dealing with it all. At the beginning, we're like babies, aren't we? Unskilled and generally flailing, wailing, just hoping that some kind-hearted experienced person around us helps us out. Then, toddlers, stumbling and bumbling along, trying to make our way. Eventually, children, teenagers, and hopefully sage adults with wisdom to illuminate our paths.

I also don't believe that my head is the only thing in my way. I think other things are in my way, too. (But my head does do a considerable job getting in my way at times! I just don't think that's what's going on here and now. Or, at least, not the only thing happening. It probably is at least partly in my way; it usually seems to be.)

I do believe that my "scars turn into beauty" all the time. I think I might be an insufferable person without my scars, and while I would prefer never to have collected such an impressive assortment, I'm glad that I've found ways for them to help me become a (slightly) less insufferable human being.

It's always okay to not be okay. That's one of my main/big takeaways from Long Covid. You're not okay? That's okay! Feel not okay, maybe tell others if you have folks around who will care enough to listen, and stop fighting it. It's not okay. Things are not okay. Feeling into the "not-okayness" of life and accepting it with compassion has been important for me over the past year.

Before I decided that it was okay to be not okay, I sometimes worried that I was falling into depression because I was so sad and/or angry in 2020 and 2021.


Then, one day (or maybe over the course of many months), I realized that I felt sad and/or angry because there was much to be sad and/or angry about. Sadness and anger are well-adjusted, balanced human reactions to saddening and angering events, like a mass-disabling event that is Covid-19. They aren't signs of pathology. It would be pathological to contract Covid due to the government ignoring the oncoming pandemic for too long, then become disabled through that viral infection, and not be sad and angry about that. Also, if you aren't sad and angry about the successive waves of Covid that have battered the world then I think you should probably consult a therapist for some fine-tuning of your emotional responses to tragedy.

It's okay to not be okay when things aren't okay. And even for awhile afterwards, if things somehow end up okay and a miraculous cure is developed for everything that Long Covid has wrought on our bodies--it will be okay to not be okay for awhile afterwards, too.

(Positive psychology and toxic positivity can go jump in a lake.)


Hold on, hold on

'Cause I have been where you are before

I think this is what celebrating/observing Jewish holidays is about to me--"I have been where you are before." Over and over again. Anywhere we find ourselves (individually), it's somewhere we've been before--as a people. 

It's not a road map for navigating it always/necessarily, but it's a comfort to be somewhere familiar. Any situation in which you find yourself, there's some kapitel Tehillim (chapter of Psalms) that lets you know that someone has been there before you.

This refrain is very moving to me: 

This is not the end of me, this is the beginning


This line is, for me, the nexus of the Venn diagram between Long Covid and Pesach.

I imagine--because it says so in the Chumash--that the Israelites who were fleeing bondage in Egypt thought that they were simply going to die in the desert. They thought that they had been released from life that felt like death--slavery--into actual death. I have, sadly, heard people with Long Covid say, "I wish the virus had killed me. This existence is no kind of existence." (I am very grateful that I've never felt that way myself. But I can understand why others would.) Surviving death just to end up in some other form of severe hardship is like, "What the hell, God? How is this any better than that?"

For me, life is better than death in many, many ways. Even a life that has felt so, so hard over the past 2+ years. As long as I can take walks and appreciate the various stages of leaves on trees and flowers blooming in the ground, I am glad to be here.

But Long Covid has, in many ways, felt like an end. Or an End, capital E. So much of what made my life meaningful in the past is no longer accessible to me. It's hard not to see that and bemoan all that was and is no more. The Ancient Israelites who fled slavery in Egypt would have understood. The desert was (is) a scary place and they missed the squash that they ate in Egypt.

But what if--hear me out here and feel free to disagree with me?--the end of one thing is always the beginning of something else? I think it often is and it's often terribly frightening because we do know what's ending, but we don't know what's beginning.

The unknown of Long Covid is the goddamn worst. The worst. The Worst--capital W. Will I ever stop being so tired? Will I ever remember all the words I once knew and be able to recall them without first searching for them fruitlessly through my mind? Will I ever stop typing the completely wrong word all the time when I write?

Spring is a time of hope and I think Pesach is a time of holding onto hope even in the face of tremendous fear and darkness--whether that's the Egyptians pursuing hot on our  heels, the yawning Red Sea in front of us, or the desolate desert beyond it.

The month of Nisan, which always takes place in spring in our Jewish lunar-solar calendar (and is the reason for the solar part of our lunar-solar calendar) is a beginning. We Jews thankfully have many beginnings in our year--the mishna in Rosh Hashanah says that we have four. Having many chances for beginning and renewal are so important to a people who has suffered a lot and faced many endings.

I'm hoping to refine/edit this and add references to the relevant Jewish texts and have something sharable in time for Pesach. (I've written this all from memory except for the song lyrics and think it would become more dvar Torah like if I added in some Jewish textual references.) 

Or maybe I'll just leave it in its rough form and, instead, do my taxes.

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