“Tomorrow, robins will sing.” — Stevie Wonder
“Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine, and all this darkness past.” — Bruce Springsteen
“Hurry, tomorrow. Tomorrow, I need you now.” — The Temptations
In other words, tomorrow is the place where things will get better. Tomorrow is where everything turns out all right. It is in America’s national character to believe that, to build hope upon it.
And hope, in the era of the coronavirus, is a commodity more precious than gold.
If 2020 is anything like 2017, the last year for which CDC statistics are available, more than 47,000 of us will die by suicide. Last month, a 49-year-old doctor named Lorna Breen became one of them. She was, according to family and friends, an outgoing and energetic woman, a lover of salsa and snowboarding, an accomplished cellist, the life of every party, including the one she threw annually on the roof deck of her home in Manhattan. She was also a woman of deep Christian faith and, as such, was likely aware of an admonition from Jesus in the Book of Matthew: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
But it’s hard not to wonder about tomorrow when you are, like Dr. Breen, fighting on the front lines of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Family members say Breen, medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, told them about hellish conditions: 18-hour shifts, doctors sleeping in hallways, ambulances stacked up, death rising inexorably as floodwaters.
Breen herself contracted COVID-19. She took only a week and a half off before returning to work. Her colleagues and patients needed her. But it was no use. She couldn’t make it through a 12-hour shift. Eventually, Breen was persuaded to go to Charlottesville, Virginia, where much of her family lives. And where she died.
Her dad, retired surgeon Philip Breen, says his daughter had no mental-health issues before this. He told CNN he believes it will eventually come out that in addition to its physical toll, this disease attacks the mind. At a minimum, it is safe to say Lorna Breen felt overwhelmed.
One need not be a heroic doctor to know that feeling these days. One need only have a small business. One need only have bills to pay. One need only watch the news. If COVID-19 is a pandemic, surely despair, a sense of being inundated by events beyond your control, is one, too.
So this word is for whoever needs it: breathe.
Seriously. Right now. Draw the air in on a slow seven count. Hold it for a slow seven count. Release it on a slow seven count.
Do it again. Do it again.
Find something that brings you joy, and give yourself over to it. Read “Curious George” to a toddler. Take a walk in the park. Spend the afternoon with a jigsaw puzzle. Say a prayer. Call your best friend. Slow dance with your sweetie to that one song that always sets the mood.
And if need be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255. We are living through a day they will write books about, a day that challenges our reserves of good humor, optimism and faith. America fetishizes self-reliance and strength, but there is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, making sure you are OK. When that doesn’t work, there’s also nothing wrong with turning to someone else and saying, “I need help.” Or, perhaps more to the point, “I need hope.” After all, giving hope is the whole reason we have each other.
It’s what tomorrow is for.