“We are All in This Together,” interpreting a Pandemic

By Sister Karlyn Cauley, SDS

I am watching a lot more TV since I began self-quarantine two weeks ago. I feel ambiguous about watching, but I also need to hear other adult voices. I watch the regular channels, not cable TV, and some of the commercials are not advertising products; rather they insert segments that tell the viewers, “We are all in this (corona virus) together.” Celebrities reiterate the message and try to inspire hope and endurance during this difficult period. At first I thought it was only one channel but soon I saw three more channels encouraging this theme.

I thought of the Christian belief of the Communion of Saints that holds in front of our eyes the union of believers both living and deceased. In Scripture it is also said to be “a Cloud of witnesses.” The image conveys that there are Holy Ones who surround us and our efforts to live a holy life and work for good as they have done before us. It conveys that “We are in this together” as a holy people on our journey.

Ten years ago I learned an interesting image that has stayed with me. It is “A Ladder of Ancestors.” The ladder stretches backward from my life with me at the top. Beneath are persons related to me, some who I may know, and others I may not. But each person- I like to think of them as “personal witnesses”- has made an investment in me. For example, my maternal grandmother named Martha, who died before I was born. She never became an artist but she knew many of the wildflowers in the vacant fields in Milwaukee, WI, where I live as an artist. For years I enjoyed composing and painting wildflowers before my mom remarked on her mother’s love of flowers also. Martha is on one of the rungs of my ladder!

And certainly my Notre Dame Sister-teachers in the early grade school I attended across the street from our house. I was too young to know I would become a Sister later in my life, but because of their investment of competence and love, the Sisters sit on rungs of my ladder. One of the best history faculty members at Marquette University, Fr. Prucca, SJ is on a rung somewhere, because his classes were never dusty, dry history and by example, he made me a good teacher in high school with adolescents later.

Some who invested in my life are in the shadows but no less important for me. These are persons in the “clouds of witnesses” and now see the fruit of their efforts because they knew we are all in this together. My Catholic upbringing taught me about the Saints: Charles for my name Karl-to-Karlyn; confirmation name as “Jane Mary”; other biblical women of Magdalene, Deborah, Sarah and a host of others join me in the Communion of Saints, too. This pandemic has offered time and reflection to me. I can only be thankful for experiencing the graces during this difficult time.

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