What the Pandemic Taught Me about Grace

It has been over 4 months since lockdown started in March in Pennsylvania. I’m sitting in my living room on a sunny July morning, with the front door open and fresh air blowing in through the screen. The ceiling fan is whirring softly, and I can’t help but reflect on how so much has changed. You probably also have similar moments, when you stop and think about the dramatic shift life has taken.

Something that has been occupying my mind lately is grace.

“Grace” has many definitions in the Cambridge Dictionary. It is defined as, “a willingness to be fair and to forgive.” It is also, “approval or kindness, especially (in the Christian religion) that is freely given by God to all humans.”

To me, grace is giving yourself and others the space to be human and make mistakes. Grace is self-acceptance. It is also accepting others as they are.

I noticed something peculiar when the pandemic started to take hold in early March. At first, people continued to grip onto the “old” normal as tightly as possible. Despite headlines about surging death tolls from Italy and China, companies continued to require employees to come into the office. People were booking travel for summer vacations. Navient continued to collect student loan checks from thousands of Americans. There was a sense of “the show must go on” mixed with a dash of “this too shall pass.”

I’m not sure what caused the shift, but on the drop of the dime, it suddenly felt like every business was either demanding that nonessential employees work from home or laying them off. We were in panic mode, and uncertain of what to expect. Yet, ironically, this stressful time of scarcity and the unknown also seemed to be a time of an unprecedented outpouring of grace and generosity.

Notoriously miserly airline companies were suddenly refunding the cost of flights that people had reserved weeks or even months in advance. The U.S. Department of Education office of Federal Student Aid deferred student loan repayments from March 13 through September 30, 2020 for all borrowers without penalty. Stimulus checks were being issued to every American that made under a certain annual salary.

Many people were jobless or had had their salaries cut. Freelancers saw requests for their services dry up. Entertainers had their major source of income – performances – cancelled.

Yet, random acts of kindness were popping up everywhere – from people grocery shopping for immunocompromised neighbors to writing letters to older folks in nursing homes who no longer could receive visits. Celebrities were sending money to people in dire circumstances and covering the salaries of laid-off workers. People were fostering dogs and cats from shelters in record numbers.

We were all thrown into a living nightmare when coronavirus hit. Stress and anxiety levels were high. Cashflow was low. However, I also noticed that in many ways, we were starting to become more forgiving of each other, and in turn, ourselves. I started to reflect on this experience and ask myself “Why?”

“Why, in this time of crisis, were we suddenly more patient with each other, more forgiving, more understanding?”

Part of it was because this was a new situation over which we had no control. In many aspects, we didn’t have a choice but to deal with the overall uncertainty that Covid-19 had thrust us into. I think that perhaps acts of kindness have been a way that we could continue to socialize with each other and continue to feel connected, even as we are apart.

But I believe a good deal of it was because we started to recognize each other’s humanity – the innate fallibility of being a whole person.

Before coronavirus, we typically only connected to a person in the context of our relationship with that person. For example, the conversations you had with your coworker before quarantine are probably a lot different from the conversations that you have with them now. Other than swapping stories about weekend plans during a coffee break, we most likely only connected with our colleagues as working professionals before the pandemic. We would exchange niceties as a quick nod to social convention, then swiftly move on to talk shop.

Coronavirus changed all that. Suddenly, we were confronted with the whole of our coworkers’ humanity. Your coworker Ramesh might attend the team check-in over Zoom while bouncing his baby girl on his knee. You now knew that his daughter had turned 14 months old yesterday, his wife was recently laid off, and she was interviewing for a new job in the next room.

The pandemic destroyed our ability to see our colleagues as fellow working professionals and nothing more. Suddenly, we could see a wider spectrum of who they were. And this applied to our relationships with friends, family members, and even acquaintances. Our social masks went up in flames as we grasped desperately to keep up with the pace of change the virus thrust us into.

Recognizing vulnerabilities in other people – as well as our own vulnerabilities – granted us the space to give each other grace. Being in quarantine for the past several months taught me this: in order to give yourself and others grace, you need time and minimal distractions.

Previously, we were all starved for time. When you’re short on time, it’s a lot more difficult to give yourself the space you need to be a human and make mistakes. And if you can’t accept your own fallibility, how can you accept the fallibility of others? How can you forgive others for being imperfect when you cannot forgive yourself?

Before the pandemic, even choosing which project I wanted to sew next gave me a great deal of anxiety. I would look at sewing patterns online and read the instructions intently to see which project had the least number of pitfalls. I didn’t want to waste time or fabric sewing a pattern that wouldn’t turn out right. When I’m starved for time, things have to turn out right for me to feel like the time I spent doing something was productive. And in American society, being unproductive is tantamount to committing a sin.

The pandemic gave us time in abundance. Suddenly, it was okay to be a human and make mistakes. People were learning how to bake bread, do TikTok dances, and dye their own hair.

Now, I sew whatever I please. If the process of making a garment makes me happy, then my time is well spent. Perfection in the final product is no longer my aim. Enjoying the process and producing a garment that I am proud of is my goal now.

Sewing a linen tie-shoulder blouse

Now that we’ve been in the throes of a pandemic for the past 5 months in America, crisis mode is, for better or worse, the new normal. Our economy is pivoting and ramping up operations. Previously furloughed employees have been brought back to work. Companies are cautiously lifting hiring freezes. This is great news: people are being hired again and have the chance to make an income. Society, ever flexible, has adapted with drive-by birthday parades, head nods instead of hugs, and curbside conversations with our besties instead of chatting inside over a pot of tea.

However, I hope that we all will continue to give each other grace, even as we move closer towards a new normal and fill our days with more robust workloads and socially-distanced activities. I hope that we will remember those hard lessons that the beginning of the quarantine in mid-March taught us: we are human. We are fallible. We will make mistakes. We must push through those mistakes to create a life and leave behind a legacy that we’re proud of. Our days on earth are numbered, and we must choose how we spend our time wisely.

Let’s continue to take care of each other, and to live with grace.

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