This Too Shall Pass?

Hope and community amid disaster

Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a 2008 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. She is a 2009 MacArthur fellow.

“I hope that by the time you read this . . .” So would end many notes and letters I used to write to the people I love, before email and text existed. If it was a letter to a sick friend, I’d write, “I hope that by the time you read this, you’re already feeling better.” If it was a note of condolence, I’d write, “I hope by the time you read this, your sorrow has been lifted, just a little.” Because there was a delay between the time I’d scribble my handwritten note and put it in the mail and the time the person on the other end would receive it, I expected some change to have already occurred, some shift to have taken place, and I always hoped it would be for the better. Never did I think to write, “Things might have fallen apart by the time you read this.” Time, I always wished, would improve terrible circumstances. This too, I hoped, would pass.

Like perhaps a great number of people, I used to think that the phrase “This too shall pass” was from the Bible, a Bible I spent my childhood listening to my minister uncle preach from when I was a girl in Haiti. Perhaps this saying, which some, including Abraham Lincoln, believed originated with King Solomon, is so often cited as a biblical verse because the Bible, in so many instances, offers similar advice on the impermanence of suffering. Growing up in a family, and in a country, where people were suffering – from poverty, illness, and political strife – I would often hear my uncle quote from Corinthians: “But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day” (2 Cor. 4:16 CEB).

“This too shall pass,” friends kept telling me, and writing to me, and texting me, when word of the novel coronavirus began to make front-page news in the United States. Living with my eighty-five-year-old mother-in-law and an immunocompromised teenager, I was of course worried. Should I stop traveling for work? Should we all self-quarantine? Should I pull both my daughters out of school, even when the danger still seemed far away?

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