File photo: Eileen Benthal

Last week we left New York for the first time since the summer of 2019. That year was a busy one for sure — family weddings and too many surgeries and hospitalizations for my daughter. It wasn’t a great year for traveling, but we did it anyway and now I’m especially glad we did.

The efforts it took to support my daughter during these family affairs and travel were worth the joy it brought to all of us. Family matters and to Jo, who now finds herself in our perpetual empty nest, she loves time spent with her siblings and sisters-in-law more than anything.

In the last year, all my writing and speaking has been done from home, as many others who shifted to remote work understand. It wasn’t much different for me because I’ve always worked from home so as to have a flexible schedule to attend to my daughter’s special needs.

In this last year, I’ve written a lot about the pandemic. Truth be told, I’m kind of tired of writing about the pandemic, tired of expressing my opinion in a culture that is easily offended from all walks of life.

The foundation of my life is found in Jesus Christ and my Catholic faith. It’s a journey that I am grateful my parents chose for me at my baptism and one that became my own when I was a teenager.

As a Catholic Christian, my ideals often conflict with the culture — on abortion, marriage, capital punishment, contraception and a host of other things. The way I express and live out these beliefs also finds me in conflict with those who espouse these same beliefs.

I live and I write from these beliefs. Therefore, I often find myself alone, especially when I remain firm in my commitment to respect and defend human life from the womb to the tomb. This includes making sacrifices to my personal freedom for the good of others — especially my daughter.

It is possible to respect one’s freedom and live by these principles.

As I said before, I am tired of writing about the pandemic. But I write about finding purpose in everyday joys and struggles, so how can I not write about how COVID-19 has changed our lives for better and for worse?

I am also personally motivated by readers who email me — most times from other states and countries. They Google topics — grief is one that comes up often — and they find this column. I suppose because I am so transparent they feel they can reach out to me and share their own fears and their joys. It never fails when I am struggling with exhaustion and a writer’s block, I receive another email thanking me for writing and sometimes asking for advice. These spur me on to write again.

This week it was another mom who is afraid of COVID and conflicted over the question regarding vaccines. She is gathering information for her family and she’s concerned over conflicting information. She found the column I wrote about vaccines and reached out to me for more information from credible sources.

I feel for her in the difficulties she is facing. But I can only encourage her to continue to research, pray and speak to her own physicians on what is best for her health and that of her family.

But when it comes to the moral decisions of how to operate in society respecting others and living in personal freedom — I find wisdom in the simplicity of the golden rule:

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31

Jesus spoke these words as part of the “Sermon on the Mount.” His teaching was radical and went beyond Mosaic law — not to abolish it, but to fulfill it by expressing the heart of the matter: love of God and love of neighbor.

You can read the whole chapter here.

When I did, these verses from Luke 6 jumped out at me:

“Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”(9)

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you..”(27)

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (31)

“Be merciful just as your heavenly Father is merciful.” (36)

These are good words to live by, whether you are a Christian or not, But if we are Christians, how then shall others know us, except by our love?

Yesterday I read an excellent opinion piece by our local hospital administrator on vaccinations in RiverheadLocal.

I read between the lines as my memory of the chaos and fear of last spring filled in the spaces between the author’s thoughts aptly expressed as one who is charged with caring for our public health.

I thought of friends and loved ones who suffered great losses, including the health care workers. One of the nurses at PBMC is a young woman I have known since before she was born. In the first year of her career, she was practicing nursing in a pandemic and holding the hands of loved ones as they slipped away from this world to the next. I felt helpless to support her except through prayer, encouraging texts and by offering fresh eggs from Jo’s chickens. I have no doubt she learned more in this past year as a nurse than she might have learn in a lifetime. It has made her a skilled nurse and a better human being.

I’m glad I took Jo away last week to visit her sister and her wife and to Jo’s favorite place in the world, a family retreat house in Cape May Point. It’s likely to be our last visit outside New York for a while as the Delta variant makes a surge.

We are donning masks inside again as added protection and concern for others. We are working on the outside of our house to create more accessible areas for Jo to safely navigate and socialize as she pursues her creative and entrepreneurial endeavors.

I respect others’ rights to personal freedom especially when it comes to one’s health. It is my hope that others would respect mine and my daughter’s as well.

If one chooses not to vaccinate, I hope they will practice mitigation through masks, hand-washing and distance protocols. We have only to look at the decline in cases of seasonal flu over the past 18 months to know that mitigation protocols decrease virus transmissions.

Lives depend on all of us making informed choices for safety and the freedom of all.

In the meantime, you can find me at Jo’s Farm encouraging my daughter to find purpose in creating a life that glorifies God while doing artwork, tending the goats and chickens and selling her farm fresh eggs.

Life is simpler and safer here as we build a future full of hope.

Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen