by the Rev. Barbara Threet
The end of this most unusual period of time seems to be in sight, as we pass the one-year mark. Vaccination rates are rising, schools are re-opening, and many UU churches are tentatively planning to hold services in our sanctuaries again when the 2021-22 church year starts up next September. In some states, virtually all restrictions have been lifted (and I’m relieved that neither Vermont, New York nor Massachusetts is among those who are throwing all caution to the wind). Sports venues are slowly opening, and amusement parks – and beaches in Florida are mobbed. The cry to “return to normal” is very loud, very insistent, and very understandable.
Except life doesn’t work that way, not ever. It doesn’t flow backward, and it won’t in relation to Covid either. We simply cannot “return to pre-Covid”. Too much has changed: lives have been lost, for starters, and businesses closed. Many people have also discovered they prefer working from home, and Zoom has allowed people from far away to join our services. Pre-Covid, my aunt was still alive, and ending Covid will not re-create the time when I could sit and chat with her. A year ago, my youngest grandson hadn’t discovered baking either, and I actually quite like having him bring me slices of fresh, warm mini-baguette or a perfectly decadent chocolate truffle cake. Life has gone forward, even though it’s often been into unfamiliar, challenging, or even frightening territory. And we can’t go back: we can’t “return to normal” or “return to how things were” or any of that. Time simply doesn’t run backward.
What we will do is to go forward into a future which will contain many familiar features that we’ve missed. More restaurants open, more concerts, more traffic, schools open and maybe even, someday, smiles in person from strangers! We won’t return to worship that’s exactly like we used to do it – Zoom has showed us new possibilities, and it’s brought new people into our congregations. We won’t even pick up with coffee hour or circle dinners exactly where we left off a year ago, because each of us has changed. We’ll have new topics, certainly, and probably a mixture of new eagerness to gather and new trepidations about gathering. We’ll go forward with a new awareness of racism, sparked by the events of last summer and beyond, and a new realization of how interconnected our country and our globe is as we face a common threat. We can’t go backward – but we can be intentional and thoughtful about how we move forward. We can decide what to reclaim and what to tweak, what to discard or re-imagine, and especially what to celebrate and savor.
We can look forward to many familiar events happening again, in a slightly (or radically) different way. We’ll bring with us the things we’ve learned as well as the things we’ve suffered. We’ll bring a new awareness of the importance of community and a confidence of our ability to adapt to completely unforeseen upheavals. We’ll bring more knowledge about how to protect our health and that of others – I suspect we’ll see more masks whenever someone has a cold, even at church, and we’ll probably pay more attention to washing hands and surfaces. We can bring a newly-heightened awareness of the need to look out for one another. We have much to carry forward, much that will help the future feel more familiar after a time of such uncertainty.
We’re coming through a very difficult time, slowly emerging toward what feels a bit more familiar. We were dealt something that was beyond our imagining a year ago. Back then, we were struggling to adjust to the idea of a few weeks’ of ‘flattening the curve’, and what it meant to be ‘socially distant’. We’ve moved forward through these many months, with courage and innovation as well as uncertainty or confusion or fear. And we don’t know exactly what the future holds, or at what pace things will unfold, or what new challenges or discoveries may arise, or how we’ll need to adapt.
What we do know – what we can commit to – is that we’ll continue to move forward. Together.
Shalom and Salaam,