Our lives have gotten smaller. We can also make them simpler.
The novel A Gentleman in Moscow tells of Count Alexander Rostov. As communists tighten control of Russia in 1922, Rostov’s aristocratic blood virtually guarantees he’ll be executed. But during his trial, the Court recalls a poem Rostov wrote years before on behalf of the working class. Rostov’s life is spared, but he is sentenced to spend the rest of his days confined to Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. If ever seen beyond its walls, he’ll be shot on site.
And so Rostov embarks on a lifetime of limitation. The man who previously ventured across continents now cannot walk to the corner market. Accustomed to soaring ceilings, he now resides in a cramped attic.
Yet day by day, a marvel unfolds. Rostov doesn’t only survive. Amid the constraints of his new life, he thrives. He forges deep friendships and grows beyond himself. He loves and is loved. He transforms others’ lives and is himself transformed. One cannot help suspecting that three decades of boundedness did not shrink Alexander Rostov. If anything, limitation made his life larger.
Like most of us, the boundaries of my own life have grown much smaller in recent days. A long-planned work trip overseas is a no-go. The church where I was to speak last Sunday canceled services, as did my home church. A conference that I and many others spent the last year planning is postponed. For people all over the globe, COVID-19 has dramatically shrunk much of what we view to be essential, from free movement to public gatherings to financial resources.
Amidst the changes and uncertainties, anxieties rise. Some stem from the obvious concerns, from illness to job loss, fueled by a constant flow of ominous news reports. The loss of routine also contributes, …