On March 21, a reporter asked Donald Trump what he would say to Americans who are scared right now. He refused to answer. He grew belligerent. He showed no compassion, offered no encouragement, showed no leadership. Here is how I wish he would have responded. Here is how I answer the question.

Dear America,

I know how scared you are. I’m scared too.

I know how terrifying this is. I am as terrified as you are.

A few days ago, we woke up in a different world than the one we closed our eyes to the night before. Nothing about it seems the same as it was, nothing about it feels recognizable, it all seems unreal.

I know how exhausted you are from trying to absorb so much information, to try and cut through the swirling chaos and press conferences and talking heads and tweets, to figure out what is true and what is fabrication—especially because your life depends upon it.

I know how difficult it is to adjust to the ever-changing restrictions, the interruptions of the daily rhythms of your life, the disorienting newness of every hour. It feels like you can’t get your feet onto solid bedrock anymore, like nothing is stable, like you are standing in shifting sand.

I know the sleeplessness and the stress you are enduring; the sprawling, endless paths your mind goes down about how bad this will get, about how long this will last, about how you’ll make it if things get worse—the unanswerable questions you seek to resolve in your head.

I know that the financial implications of this are real and petrifying. You’ve lost jobs or you fear you soon will, you’ve seen your hours get cut back and you’ve had to cancel events and miss opportunities. You have new businesses you’ve dreamed of for years, that may never launch now—or ones you’ve nurtured for decades that you might have to shutter. I know there are bills piling up, and college tuitions looming, and your 401k has vanished. I know your margins were already paper thin to begin with and that the irreconcilable numbers are adding to your already overburdened emotional resources.

I know how frightening it is to walk into stores and be greeted by barren shelves, to see the shocking greed of people around you, to feel a scarcity that you may have never felt before, to know hunger and lack and want, perhaps for the first time.

I know that you’re trying to shelter your children through this; to solve tangible problems and deal with the pragmatic issues like schooling them from home or altering your family’s schedule, while also trying to shield them from the full depths of your own despair, for fear that it will shake them too greatly—while wondering how this nightmare might be shaping their minds.

I know that if you’re older or compromised by illness or previous condition (or if you love someone who is) that the worry is especially profound; wondering if that cough is a simple scratch in your throat or a dark harbinger of something else. I know how angry you become seeing selfish people being reckless with their lives, not considering the way it makes you vulnerable, not realizing it threatens your ability to feel safe.

I know how much the isolation is wearing on you; the way the lack of human contact magnifies the distance, how much you miss embracing those you love, how much more difficult this all is because you feel like you’re weathering it alone.

You’re not alone.

You’re not, friends.

That’s what I want you to know, more than anything right now.

I want you to know that every single human being who calls this place home is facing something they’ve never faced before.

Every one of us is fighting back the encroaching fears and tapping into their deepest reserves, and trying to adjust and wait and help and fix, and to make sense of all this senselessness.

It may not solve any of the real or imagined terrors you’re contending with, but there is strength in the solidarity of this sadness. There is comfort to be found in the affinity we feel right now. There is encouragement waiting in our shared sorrow.

The separation we feel is only a myth, because though we are physically apart right now, we are together in this terrifying moment.

I know you’re scared America, because I’m scared too.

But I also know who we are, I know what we’re made of.

I know our disparate, glorious beauty that is rising up in these hours.

I know that people of faith, morality, conscience, and goodness will always transcend the dire circumstances they find themselves in.

I know that we can appeal to our better nature right now; that we out give and out share and out love this unthinkable nightmare; that we will reach into a deeper place of humanity and that we will unearth something glorious: the America we can and will be.

If we stay connected to one another and we let compassion lead us now, one day soon we will wake in the morning to a different world than the one we closed our eyes to. It will not be this terrible day.

We will breathe and embrace and laugh and dream and do all the things that right now we fear that we will never do again.

Yes, be scared, but be greatly encouraged.

The radiant dawn of this terrifying night is coming, so hold on.

John Pavlovitz

The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.

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