I’ve always been big on compassion. Maybe it’s because I’m not good at math or science and have all the markers of a sensitive person with porous boundaries. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to the theologies of Christianity and Buddhism. While I am not always successful in exhibiting compassion, it is the path to which I aspire. I pray and meditate in order to cultivate compassion within myself so I can embody and share it. I also pray that it will be shared with me. As someone who manages life with bipolar, I find myself hoping for people’s patience and grace often. I appreciate when they turn out to be the angelic people I need in that moment.

I am grateful that grace and compassion are being mentioned so frequently during COVID. With everything people are going through, we can all use it. I’m hoping that the open acknowledgement of anxiety and depression during COVID (and the greater dissemination of resources and education) de-stigmatizes mental illness for good.

Some aspects of the pandemic-struggle are shared by all of humanity: The trauma of fear and loss, for example. Simultaneously, we carry unique and multiple burdens. This is where grace is necessary.

My husband and I had various friends and family members call us over the past year saying they were driving through and wanted to meet up. I love them all and wanted to see them, but my husband and I didn’t feel comfortable meeting in person, so we found other ways to connect. They had different levels of comfort with being out in the world. It’s hard to say no to someone, but they showed us grace by respecting our decision. Some acquaintances, on the other hand, displayed offense at my saying no, even though I offered alternatives. I have asthma, and that’s what I say to people when I decline getting together. I don’t have a higher chance of contracting COVID, but if I got it, I wouldn’t do well since even the common cold virus sets off a firestorm in my lungs.

But why do I even need to present this further evidence to support my decision? Isn’t the fact of a global pandemic enough to say, “I’m sorry, I’m not meeting in person right now. But do you have time for a phone call? Or can I send you a Zoom link for Saturday?” Proof of an underlying health condition is understandable and oftentimes necessary to be excused from face-to-face work or school. But with family or friends, no one should feel they have to justify their decisions about what optional activities they will participate in.

In the coming months, many people will not be “re”-entering society because they never exited in the first place due to their jobs. I am grateful that my employer has most staff working from home and that my tasks allow me that flexibility. I am fortunate to be able to engage in a higher level of vigilance.

Whether we are re-entering the mainstream world or we never left, my hope is that we lend grace to one another, realizing that each of us is navigating our own space the best that we can. I hope that people who are hesitant to meet and mingle will not be shamed or pressured to gather before they are ready. We’ll emerge in our own time. For some folks, their trepidation may not be based on virus particles alone, but on what has become unfamiliar—gathering with extended family, waiting in lines, even driving.

We are all dealing with some form of loss due to the pandemic. This experience is a collective trauma. We will need each other in order to heal. Compassion and grace will be the gifts that mend us.