As Easter approached, the delicately balanced equilibrium and calm I have managed to cultivate during this season were capsized by being confronted with two radically different possibilities for my future.
The first came with joy. A vocational opportunity was brought to my attention that would have simultaneously expanded my audience and boosted my credibility. It had only the remotest chances of coming to pass: yet being thought of as suitable for it was simultaneously humbling and gratifying. I spent Good Friday, ironically, in an odd stupor of mirth: though I knew there was no real path to it becoming a reality, the presentation of the dream was its own consolation. I felt as though I understood, for the first time, the combination of incredulity and gratitude that fueled Sarai’s laughter at the angel’s announcement she would someday be with child.
The second, though, was an occasion for fear and sorrow. On Holy Saturday, I found out that a friend had all the symptoms of Covid-19. I had just seen him on Wednesday: he has been in a particularly bad way, and I have been trying to help him through it by giving him the occasional chore to do. We social distanced like pros: I wore a mask, and he stayed in the yard. I washed my hands twice after I picked up a rake he had used. The odds of being sick were minuscule—and yet the uncertainty was debilitating. I spent Holy Saturday loathing the essay I had written on Friday, and luxuriating in penance for all that I had done in trying to help a friend, and all I had left undone. The possibility, however slight, of having infected those I love was unbearable.
As it turns out, neither possibility became real—which in no way diminishes their importance for how I shall remember this Easter. Indeed, I think the second turn of events sheds has enabled me to welcome properly locate the first. I don’t feel particularly sad that the dream job won’t materialize, and not (I think) because it was a long shot anyway: being presented with the possibility by someone who is a friend is more than consolation enough. To look on it with anything other than gratitude would be to fundamentally distort its character: there’s nothing owed me, especially not goodness.
But I don’t think I would have felt that way without Holy Saturday. On Monday morning, I felt an extraordinary relief when I learned my friend had the regular ol’ flu—such that I somewhat insensitively called my very sick friend with a cheer that I’m sure was grating. The lifting of uncertainty was a joy: but the possibility of Covid-19 had done its work. Pride goeth before the fall—or in this case, the unmitigated joy at an unexpected opportunity goeth before the confrontation of one’s own sin and mortality. If I can meet the loss of the first possibility as a grace, it is only because I was given the grace of losing the second.
On Monday morning, I learned a new fact: my friend was not sick. In Descent into Hell, Charles Williams posits that all facts are “facts of joy.” But if all facts are occasions of joy, not every fact is equally joyful. After all, between Saturday and Monday morning was Easter Sunday—a day on which the true fact of Christ’s resurrection is meant to be answered by our most vibrant celebrations. The resurrection of the Lord has happened: like all facts, there is no undoing it. It is the singular, irrepeatable, concrete reality against which every possibility that besets us fades into mist.
And in its shadow, all other facts seem inconsequential. The joy of Easter preceded and prepared me for the joy of hearing that the original reason for my dismay and penitence was merely the dreamlike possibility that I unwittingly had Covid-19. For even if that horrible possibility had become real, it could not have had the weight it took on Saturday. Christ is risen: the penitence inspired by a pandemic no longer has a place within our hearts or lives. He is risen indeed.