Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.
To tell someone suffering from a chronic illness such as Longhaul COVID that “This too shall pass” is to invite a punch to the throat.
The origins of this phrase are sketchy. Those of the Christian persuasion often like to trot it out in an attempt to give someone going through a tough time some hope. They point to 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which reads:
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Forget for a second that this verse does not actually say “This too shall pass,” nor does any verse in the Bible. As a former Christian, I have been comforted bythese words when I’ve gone through some of the many trials I have faced in my life, though I always was left with one eyebrow arched in skepticism. The death of my first son was not a “light affliction,” and the grief was anything “but for a moment.”
The well-intentioned faithful met my hesitancy to accept their platitude without critical examination with replies that “light” was meant a comparison to what Jesus suffered on the cross when he felt the weight of all the world’s sins on his shoulders and “but for a moment” referred to the long timeline of eternity.
The serious regurgitation of that sort of “logic” is part of the reason people end up placing “former” before “Christian.”
The reality is, the actual phrase “This too shall pass” did not emerge in Judeo-Christian theology until the 19th century. It appears much earlier in the fables of those heathen Muslims, including Sufi poets such as Rumi, Sanai and Attar of Nishupar, who lived in the 13th century.
Attar’s fable tells of a powerful king who asks some wise men to craft a ring that will make him happy when he is sad. I imagine these guys being much more emotionally centered than their king and, when his highness turned away, they rolled their eyes as powerfully as my sister did at least twice a day when she was a teenager. But the king is the king, and these bright guys got to work, eventually handing him a simple ring with the words “This too shall pass” etched on it in Persian.
The king’s outlook was, indeed, brightened when he looked at this ring while sad. But then he looked at it when he was happy and realized the ring had become a curse because he was reminded that he will again be sad.
Back to Longhaulhood. I’ll put forward that it might be a wise idea to keep that phrase in your pocket when you’re talking to a person who has been affected by a new virus that has killed more than 4 million people in the past 16 months and left many, many others with a lingering and life-altering syndrome for which the medical establishment has no tests to even identify, let alone the means to treat or cure.
In other words, just don’t.
To quote Exodus 14:14:
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Or if we put it in Mark Twain’s words:
“It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it,”
Well said, Sam.
Here’s the deal: You, doctors, Longhaulers themselves… exactly no one knows that what they’re going through will pass. And if you respond to that by saying “Well, no matter what, it will when you die and enter the peace of eternity,” may I again refer you to Exodus 14:14, Mark Twain or the threat of a throat punch?
What Longhaulers know is that, for many of them, Longhaul symptoms haven’t passed for more than a year right now. Often, when they do pass for a week or two, they come back inexplicably and randomly with debilitating force.
It’s not just the symptoms themselves we’d love to pass. Longhaul COVID, at best, strains and, at worst, wrecks relationships. It puts an incredible burden on loved ones, especially those who find themselves in caregiving roles. It can be incredibly frustrating and downright annoying to people who have to deal with a Longhauler’s forgetfulness due to brain fog. How many times can they listen to the complaints of fatigue or joint pain? How long will they genuinely be OK with their Longhauler’s inability to do the things that they used to do together like hiking, biking or even walking from the car to a play without stopping ever 100 feet?
Yes, what more and more Longhaulers are realizing is that something, indeed, does pass: The stability of their marriages or other important relationships. And as readers of this little diary know, that leads to isolation, which is one of the main ingredients in the recipe that is leading to Longhaulers seeking suicide as a solution.
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There comes a point when good intentions need to be replaced by an ounce of reflection that just might lead to more compassion. Spitting out tried-and-true phrases that, even to those who share your faith, have become more than a bit trite hurts more than it helps.
A better course of action? Shut up and just be there. We don’t think you have the ability to fix anything. We do think you can help us ride out the storm and adjust to life with new limitations.
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