- Karl Thunemann
A Prayer for this Time of Pandemic
I picked up my copy of Ken McLeod’s Reflections on Silver River, resolved to read it through and perhaps incorporate the lesson I know it must hold for me. But somehow the introduction sidetracked me with McLeod’s description of his illness and suffering during his prolonged training in Tibetan Buddhism.
He found himself riveted by this 14th-century prayer:
If it is better for me to be ill,
Give me the energy to be ill.
If it is better for me to recover,
Give me the energy to recover.
If it is better for me to die,
Give me the energy to die.
At first McLeod was struck by its mysterious quality. But later, when he was ill, depressed, and unable to attend to his studies, he encountered the prayer again, and recited it repeatedly. And something changed. “I gave up on my life. I gave up any hope that I would ever be happy again or well or I would ever be enlightened or awake or whatever you want to call it.”
Numerous readers of this blog are like me—over age 65 and possessing a list of complicating conditions as long as our arms.
When I bought this book a few years ago the prayer just bounced off me. Enigmatic and weird. I thought. But now, in this time of pandemic, it feels true.
In this time of pandemic, when the experts are guessing that the number of people infected is far greater than official reports, when you can be sick, symptom-free and a source of infection to people around you, what can you do? The precautions we are told to follow—wash our hands, wear masks, practice social distancing and shelter in place—make sense. But they are not guarantees. A chance encounter could cause infection and bring us much closer to death.
Numerous readers of this blog are like me—over age 65 and possessing a list of complicating conditions as long as our arms. I am tempted to say we are oppressed by these conditions, but that lends them unwonted power over us.
Throughout my life, I have been susceptible to colds. They arrive with their own familiar conditions. I fancy that I can cope with them and make a distinction between them and COVID-19. But given the nefarious qualities of the virus, you cannot know for sure that these seemingly familiar symptoms are not masking something deeper.
Would this prayer be useful to you? I find it helpful. I am too old to indulge in giving up on my life. Still, the prayer can play in the background. I am 75 and possessed of a few conditions beyond COVID that could take me out at any time—without any particular warning. So I have added add this couplet to the prayer:
When it is better for me to feel well,
Give me the energy to live well.
I will insert this addition just ahead of the final couplet. And, though this is ancillary to the prayer, may I be open to the spirit of being well. May this spirit persist even in the face of grunting and groaning to retrieve a dropped object.