Once a philosopher and a colleague of mine at the Philology Department of the Lomonosov Moscow State University used to provoke us with questions on hypothetical situations like: “What would you do if you were to learn that the end of the world would come in three days?” And we would answer him with surprise: “It would be no use doing anything in this case, unless you are a believer who will run to church immediately.” Hearing this answer, the philosopher would exclaim with passion: “Really?! Haven’t you ever dreamed of stealing a luxury car, for example? Or doing something forbidden yet tempting? You wouldn’t be punished for this anyway!” But we wanted none of that. Neither side could understand the other; and I personally couldn’t understand why such hypotheses should be put forward in the first place.
But the moment has come when this question has crept into my mind. I’ll tell you right off: I am not the kind of person who is prone to panic. On the contrary—it takes me a long time to accept any global changes and take them for granted. Perhaps my brain protects my psyche from various strokes of bad luck in this way. But general concern about the virus which has been “crowned” by someone has made me think about this deeply as well. Standing in church (which was still open) before the beginning of Holy Unction (which was still conducted in churches), I could hear elderly people on both sides whispering about the latest “war communiques” from the medical “battlefront”. The old ladies were discussing secretively the oncoming “end of the world” and “the fulfilment of the prophecies.” The priests I knew disproved such rumors in social media. But now there was no way of hiding from this flow of information.
And I tried to imagine the worst possible developments.
I may or may not catch this virus; I may die from it or be cured. That is still not so frightening. Everybody has this experience when the Lord saved them when they were within a hair’s breadth of death because it was still not their time. I too had such moments and remember them well. If the Lord decides to take me now and precisely in this way, it simply means that my final hour on this earth has come. And for those who have passed into eternity, how they passed is not that important.
Assume one of my family members will catch the virus and die. It will mean that their time has come. In this case, the less love and care I show to them the more bitter I will feel. Any person becomes closer and more loved by you at the thought that you may lose them. All the more so if these are our nearest and dearest. My conscience suggests that I love those closest to me not with all 100 percent of my heart’s capacity. At best I love them with fifty percent. And it is no use justifying myself and saying that no one can love with 100 percent. In reality, if we want we can love with at least seventy or eighty percent, not dictated by someone from outside but felt by our own hearts.
I can also imagine even worse scenarios: mass unemployment, starvation, looting and war. But my mind has instantly put forward the following counter-argument: If the Lord doesn’t take you even under these circumstances, you will have to survive. And the stories of the New Martyrs, the Siege of Leningrad survivors, war veterans and those who went through labor camps I had read about will help me. Those who aren’t taken by Him at once are given strength to go on. And all trials are always temporary.
Lastly, I imagined that soon there would be an end to everything, and not to me personally. And what next? As a priest said to me when I was a neophyte (and afraid of Taxpayer Identification Numbers and other signs I read about in various booklets): “For you and me, ‘the end of the world’ may come anytime.” In fact, for each one of us, personal death means the end of this world. But even at the universal end of the world will I regret having exchanged loneliness (which the Apostle Paul called best) for marriage in this difficult period? Will I regret having married at a relatively late age and having lived with my husband only for several years? And will I regret that my only child will be two years old? No, I will thank God that I have managed to get to know love, even if at the eleventh hour.
I’ll regret neither trips to countries where I have never been and will probably never be, nor the clothes and accessories that I’ve owned but now there’s nowhere to wear them. Nor the balls and dances, museums and theaters I’ve gone to and would still go… There is no point in regretting any of this. The world has taken off its “crown” and we have found that “the emperor is naked”. And helpless. Dying without our love and in acute need of our help in the person of our elderly and sick people, who need care and not only during epidemics.
The only thing I will regret is having argued and quarreled with my long-awaited husband. Having been annoyed and not always having found time for my baby. That I have only one child and will unlikely have time to have more. And that I haven’t become a sister of mercy and paid little attention to suffering people around me. I will regret the love that I haven’t given enough of to others. But, fortunately, this resource (unlike gold, petroleum or money) is available to everybody and is always with us. The Lord has given us time to make up for what we lack in our hearts and our homes. Self-isolation and Great Lent are ideal for this.
Now, seeing my husband off to his job, I realize that every meeting may become the last. Maybe just for the time being (and no one knows for how long), but I don’t want to quarrel with him. Staying indoors with my baby, unable to make some money on the side, without my projects and creative work (creative work is always with me, as is a computer, but I am not in the mood for this in these troubled times), I learn to find joy in the days I spend with a growing little human-being. And also with my mother to whom we gave so little attention in our frenzied pace of life. In phone talks with my brother, who is locked down in quarantine; and my father, who can’t see his granddaughter for the same reason.
I admit that for the past ten years I haven’t learned to want to steal a high-class car or go on a mad spree for the last three days of my life. But I have begun to learn to love; and thank God, we still have time for this.