Mary, Joseph, and the Coronavirus

words by Nathan Goodroe

art by Henry Osswa Tanner

On the last full day of my wife and my honeymoon in Barcelona, we wandered into a small church next to our hotel. We had gone through the world famous Sagrada Familia and seen Gaudi’s Park Güell, but there was a palpable giddiness between the two of us when we walked in because we had finally found a place in the city that felt like our own. We had accidentally found a hidden gem, a place without crowds of people in a city built for tourism. It was not empty, but we were able to find quiet corners and enjoy what we had found.

We sat in front of a painting of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. I imagined the anxiousness they must have felt once they decided that they were going to begin a life together, wondering how they were meant to begin and unsure of how their story was going to turn out. I found comfort in them as I sat at the beginning of a marriage I was excited about but anxious to begin. None of us in that moment knew what exactly we would have to do to make it work, but we were on our own journeys.

We are expecting our first child in April, and my wife and I have felt the same paradoxical feelings that every new parent gets to feel. There is a sense of unbounded potential of joy that floods my thoughts when I imagine what the future as a growing family will mean, but a terror of knowing the hurt and heartache that will inevitably find its way to my child’s life. We made plans for how the first few months would look and what we would do. We discussed who would see the baby first and who would just have to wait until we got home and settled into our new routine. But we watched all of our preconceived notions slowly fall away and be forced to change as the coronavirus began to alter the ways every one interacted with each other and the world around them.

We stayed home and did our jobs remotely and saw friends through computer screens. The journey we had been on with those close to us were put on hold as we tried to find our new normal. We moved our eating out funds into our grocery budget and bought shopping carts full of food on the few excursions we made away from our house.

Suddenly one of the fears was given a name and symptoms. There were stories about those who had contracted it without knowing, people suffering through and surviving, and those who did not. There were statistics that assured us that everything would be fine for expectant mothers and children, even if they contracted it and warnings that put them in the most vulnerable of the population. The last bit of the illusion of control we still had gave out and showed the world as it had been all along: bigger than anything either of us could do to change it alone.

I think of Mary and Joseph now more than ever. I think of their journey to Bethlehem, pregnant and scared. I imagine them stopping along the way because the unborn baby Jesus had lodged himself in a corner of Mary’s ribs that sent a shooting pain through her body or stopping because it had all felt like too much for either of them. I wonder if Mary had imagined her family and neighbors around her when she finally became a mother, coaching her through it all. Was there a moment when it crystalized inside her that she wouldn’t have that for this child? All of their preconceived notions of what becoming a family was going to mean and how they imagined this promised child would come into the world had to be left behind. They had each other, and no matter how much those they loved and cared for wanted to be there, they could not come along. Elizabeth— who shared in Mary’s joy when she learned she was pregnant— would not be there for her cousin when her water finally broke and labor began like Mary was for her.

When I imagine the next few weeks, I wonder if there will be a bed or room for us at the hospital or if I can be there by my wife’s side. I sympathize with Joseph settling for a manger because it was the best they could do with the cards they were dealt. And I worry about a virus that feels like it pursues us on Herod’s order and an angle appearing to say, “Take your wife and child and stay home.” The promise of our child— and every child born in these strange times— brings with them is not forgotten, but it feels far away.

So much feels far away: friends and family we cannot walk through pregnancy together with, parents that want to share in the joy of the moments, and the normalcy we planned to bring our baby into. But even so, Mary and Joseph feel close. I pray to them when I need reassurance from someone who has been where we are. They are our partners as we venture to our Bethlehem, whatever that may hold for us.