Whether I’m headed to Mass, to teach class, to perform Juliet, or write an article, what I always ask when I wake up remains the same: “Wait. What day is it?”
Of course, what I’m really asking is: “What do I need to do today?” Which really means, “What am I supposed to wear today?” Which is related to: “Who am I going to see today?” and “Where am I going today?” and “How will I get there?” and “Does it look like rain?” and “Yes, but where shall we eat?”
All of which is to say, I begin each morning with structure. Or used to. I really miss structure. I miss knowing what day it is.
I’m not quite sure when it happened. Some time in March, it bled into April. But I was still keeping to a routine of sorts. I got dressed. I did my hair. I tried to cling to “normal” for as long as possible, even as the hunt for toilet paper started turning feral, and the sirens kept wailing, and people I knew — from my fellow actor friends to whole Catholic homeschooling families — started to get COVID, and recovered, or didn’t, or did but with their lives forever altered.
One roommate moved out to get married. That was in May. I clung to that. That happened in May. My other roommate got stuck in Maryland. Everyone was leaving New York. I had the apartment alone. A luxury in the Before Times. A difficulty in the Now.
I started counting the days since anyone had touched me: back in March, a friend hugged me good-bye. The day before my world collapsed. At least we hugged each other. What day was that? No idea. What month, then? March. That was March. Then April came. The churches closed. This was … June? July? What day is it? What month is it? At least I know the year.
I got a call. A request to sing at Mass. Some things were opened cautiously. I’d seen the restaurants spilling on the streets, during my daily walks. The organist explained the precautions that they’d take, and how I would be safe. I agreed to sing. Feeling almost dizzy, anxious, as I took the subway into Mass. How long had it been?
I’d gotten a message from a friend earlier that day: be careful in Times Square. The police are out. A female friend, a threat to nobody, had been brutalized and detained the day before by the police, while she was walking with her boyfriend, after the protests. Three officers had beaten her to the ground. She’d been walking. In Times Square.
I sang at Mass on the Fourth of July. I remember that. Singing from the choir loft. Only myself and the priest unmasked, with perhaps a dozen congregants. I received communion afterwards, slipping Him beneath my mask. What day is it? When will I sing again? Not for another month, perhaps. In a month, it will be Sunday.
I took the long way home, avoiding the police. Called a friend. Heard about protestors threatening the statue of Junípero Serra. Heard, more, how very frightened my friend was. It wasn’t so much about the statues, as it was about safety. Who was safe?
Another friend, a Catholic actor, was tear gassed in LA, while he walked for civil rights. A gentle friend, who tried to shield a few other bodies. I asked if he was frightened. No, he said. He’d seen others who’d had it worse. He knew what day it was. Therefore, he knew what he had to do. He rested up, and marched again. Gently, and with grace.
And so it goes. Each one of us can mark some certain dates. Birthdays. Anniversaries. The ever-shifting supermarket tells us HallowThanksChristmasEve is upon our candy jars at last. The world slowed down for the election: a full four years in each direction dilated into a century of days. Some danced, some sobbed, some grew violent, and some stirred up from their slumber, to ask: “What day is it?”
Or rather: What should I wear? Will I have anyone to see? Will I have anywhere to go? How will I get there? How will I eat, pay rent, buy clothes? What do I have to do?
To which, I’d answer: You must love the Lord, your God with your whole heart, mind, and strength. You must love your neighbor as yourself. That is the day it is.
Wear the robes of compassion, even more than the armor of God. Wear the sweatpants of humility, the T-shirt of good-humor, the cap of understanding, the facemask of discretion, the kneepads of self-sacrifice, and may your slippers have the softness of the lamb.
Go! See the prisoner, the downtrodden. Understand their struggles and what they truly need. Go, search after the leper and do not lecture them, but tend their wounds instead. Go, find your enemies and do not merely turn the other cheek, but embrace them as your brother (or, at least, fistbump them over Zoom). Go, and be the Good Samaritan, and not the people who passed by.
You were made for Heaven. You will get there by the compassion of the Cross. There is no other way than this. Not by fear, not by judgement, not by trying to be gods yourself. Only by stretching your arms wide to those you think may hate you, and choosing Love instead.
It will rain. There were plagues ere now, and there will be plagues hereafter. Good souls will rule with justice, and tyrants will take their place, and fools will cause the death of many more than these.
But take heart. There are umbrellas. There is art. There is music. Laughter. Sermons. Sports. Family. Friends. Where you have harmed somebody, you may repent. Where you have been hurt, you may be healed. Our God is a God of Mercy, and He’s not done with you yet. Hang in there. Get the help you need. Ask for an umbrella.
We will eat together again. In church, when it is safe. In restaurants and at parties, once we’ve done right by each other. Heaven is a feast, and we’re aiming for that, too (though not too soon!). It’s fine to fast a little here on earth.
What day is it?
It’s a gift you have been given.
What must you do?
Survive. Give thanks. Be kind. Do good.
Emily C. A. Snyder is a professional novelist, essayist, and internationally produced playwright, working out of New York City. She is the founder and artistic director of Turn to Flesh Productions which develops new plays in heightened text with vibrant roles for women and those underrepresented in classical art. She is also the host of Hamlet to Hamilton: Exploring Verse Drama. You can find more about her work at Emily C. A. Snyder. Her previous article was I Speak Too Well to Be Poor: An Advent Reminder.
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