By the Rev. Barbara Threet
A new year. A huge sigh of relief – 2021 can’t possibly be any harder or unfamiliar or challenging that 2020 was! Well, it simply can’t – can it?
I pray not. I hope not! I long for a rhythm that feels more familiar, for a freedom of movement that I took for granted to such an extent that it never occurred to me that it was a freedom that I could lose. I suspect that true for just about all of us – we want to sit around a table with loved ones without any tinge of fear; we want to hear music or watch a movie with our arms linked with friends; we want to wander in stores and eat in restaurants and chat with neighbors – and we want to see all of people’s faces while we do all of that. We want to stand in our churches and sing together, jostle with classmates in the halls of our schools, and stop by a colleague’s desk at work to trade a bit of gossip or study a document together.
Not yet, though: not yet.
One of the things that I think may help in these coming months, as we slog through in the hopes that summer will be easier, is remembering our differences. The thing you’re missing so much may not seem much of a hardship at all to me, and the thing I’m so longing to do again may be something you’d never dream of doing anyhow. These months of struggle are different for each of us, since each of us lead different lives with different priorities and rhythms to begin with. Even the way we interpret the practices we know we’re supposed to follow varies, and the recommendations and rules keep changing anyhow. Should we be wearing a mask every time we’re riding in a car with someone else, or is that overkill? Do we need a mask at all when we’re walking outside – walking alone? With a friend? On the street, where we’re passing strangers? This town requires that I be masked at all times once I’m outside my house, but that one doesn’t – what should I do where, and how am I supposed to remember all these competing rules and keep updated on them? Should we say something to the person who’s going the wrong way in the grocery store aisle? When is it safe to meet with family, and where, and for how long, and even – how do we define ‘family’? Our answers will vary, even though we all have the same goal of health and safety.
A useful guide, for me, is to err on the side of caution. That in itself is a difference for me. I don’t think of myself as foolhardy or reckless, but I’m usually willing to take a chance, to face down my fears and not let them stop me once I’ve determined they’re probably groundless. Sadly, the fears that hold me back now are not groundless, and that in itself is disconcerting. But it means staying home when possible, staying in stores as briefly as reasonable, and using Zoom and email and snail mail a lot – even using the phone! As weeks and months roll by, it means evaluating how I spend my money (from my couch, of course): less Amazon and more local bookstores, less extra sweaters I really like but don’t need and more donations to organizations I care about. Recently, these peculiar days even seem to be affecting my reading: I have less energy for yet another book of current political commentary which so often just makes me frustrated and angry, and more time for history and science. And I’ve gotten a lot better at not going out until my grocery list is fairly long – no more driving into town just for a few items, even if I couple it with other errands – and I go only during what my grandson calls Old People’s Shopping Hour (which I’ve found is lots less crowded anyhow, and the shelves are all freshly stocked!). And that diminishes the number of trips, which even saves on gas! I think I’m learning a few lessons that will remain useful long after all of this has eased!
Often, these days, I sit with questions. What can I do to minimize the chances of getting or transmitting COVID, of course – not how much can I do and probably not transmit it, but what can I cut back on or reshape or even give up, so that I’m part of an eventual solution? What have I learned about myself? What do I want to take forward? What do I love, and how will I nourish those people and places and institutions these days?
This season is often referred to as a time of wonder – and I truly hope it is for all of us this year. But in a whole new way, Holidays 2020 is also a season of wondering – what has deepest value and how can we nourish it? How can we adapt, what do we really need, and how will we create it now? As I look into January 2021 and beyond, those are the questions I want to ponder. If you’re pondering them too, I’d love to hear (or read) your ruminations and discoveries! Stay in touch…
Shalom and Salaam,