by Patti Davis

Of all the wise and reliable things that Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, I was particularly struck when he said, “You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.”

Anyone who has dealt with an incurable disease has, at some point, had to accept the fact that they have no control over its timeline or its severity. I vividly remember coming to that realization about my father’s Alzheimer’s. It didn’t happen right away. Like many people with Alzheimer’s, he plateaued for a while during the early stages – for a few years, actually. So even though I knew intellectually that things would get worse, and that there was no way of predicting how or when he would deteriorate, on an emotional level I hadn’t quite grasped it.

It was when he fell off that plateau that the full weight of Alzheimer’s hit me. The disease had moved into our lives and had taken control. It was going to move at its own pace, conquer my father in ways that we couldn’t anticipate and couldn’t stop. It would steal huge swaths of memory from him and leave scattered morsels behind. All we could do was watch and grieve and try to accept that there was nothing in this whole wide world that we could do about it.

We are all going through that realization now with the global pandemic of Coronavirus. Yes, we can take measures to protect ourselves, but in a very real way, as Dr. Fauci said, the virus is in control.

As sobering and frightening as that is, I learned some valuable lessons years ago by grappling with the fact that I had to surrender to a disease I didn’t fully understand. It’s humbling to accept that you have no control, that there is something huge and mysterious at work, and the best you can do is reach deep inside yourself for faith and for calm. We all tend to think that we can grab the reins in any situation and exert our will over it – some of us more than others. To be confronted with the fact that sometimes our will can’t make a difference means we have to soften; we have to be more vulnerable, more accepting, and reach for understanding instead of control.

Alzheimer’s taught me where fear lives in my body. It showed me how loneliness can descend like a shadow and no matter how much you scrape at it, it stays. When the severity of this virus hit all of us and entire cities shut down, I was returned to those familiar places inside myself and felt again how tears rise up to linger just beneath the surface. And how at scattered moments they spill over.

But then I remembered other things. I thought back to how I slowed down, how I was more willing to meet other people’s eyes, looking for some kind of connection. I spent more time watching dawn widen the sky and I studied the darkness, looking for constellations my father used to tell me about. There is too much city light now to find Orion or Pegasus, but knowing they are there made me gaze longer at the night sky.

We will be different after this is over. We will be more attuned to the fragility of life, and to the emotional threads that run through all of us. We will, hopefully, be less inclined to barrel through life and more willing to pause and take stock of what’s important. We will smile more at strangers and give more to those who need us. We are never in control of the things that come along to change us, but we are in control of whether or not we choose to change.

Patti Davis is the daughter of President Ronald Reagan, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2004, and Nancy Reagan. She is the author of 12 books, including the latest book “The Wrong Side of Night.”