It Ain’t Ever Going to Be the Same
Thursday, August 26, 2021
I’m a glass-half-full type of guy. I swear I came by it honestly. As the youngest of a wide and varied family, I learned to take a lot of things as it came to me … and to keep smiling. I’m optimistic and persistent to a fault.
Which can explain how I can be over a year into this COVID-journey and still have rose-colored lenses. But, even I have my limits.
Today, I saw the map of the United States. Have you seen the COVID colors recently?
Aside from a small sliver of Alaska and blotches in Nebraska (good God, what do they do in western Nebraska?), the whole country was on fire with the Delta variant, a flaming hot Cheeto of viral spread. Here, locally, the positivity rate has jumped to 19.5%. The last time I remember this type of anxious energy in our culture was when … well, last election … which came on the heals of the rightful angst around the ongoing realities of police brutality and entrenched racism. Everything, as Scott Simon said on Weekend Edition, is literally burning all around us.
Trends and maps and stats, though, keep things too impersonal. So, here are a few others from my past few weeks. I’ve now been to at least two food establishments that have closed because of the outbreak. I’ve talked to three people who have been vaccinated and who have gotten sick with COVID since then (breakthroughs). And, I am very aware of the emotional tug-of-war going on around whether or not to send our kids to school in masks again.
One thing is clear.
Things ain’t going to be the same anytime soon. Even this glass-half-full guy is facing the blatant truth.
But, there’s something else going on.
Not everyone has the same type of boat to weather this storm.
That’s the truth that has emerged, and has only become more evident over time.
When this started, there was so much unity and such a strong desire to see this as a collective experience. I bought into that narrative too. We’re all on this journey together. We can get through this. If we all just pull together …
But, the analogy was flawed from the start. Sure, COVID and all of its effects might be a storm descending upon us all. That doesn’t mean we’ve all got the same safety structures. Some of us are in Noah-esque vessels of security and comfort. Some are having to make due with a Mastercraft or Nautique situation of getting by: not necessarily perfect, but not bad either. But, then there are some folks who are battling through this whole thing in a dinghy … or life preserver … or a bit of floatsam. And some folks have been having to tread water this whole dang time.
And depending on what you’ve got to cling to or not cling to, well, that changes your perspective of this whole situation in a huge way.
I’ve noticed a lot of our folks who have returned to worship have got it pretty good. A lot of them are the ones who stood the most to lose when this whole COVID thing broke – i.e. – their very lives. But, with the gift of the vaccine and the security of retirement, they’ve wanted to come back.
Unfortunately, that’s not what it’s like for a lot of our folks out there. Their weeks still involve a lot of pummeling and battering from the intensity of both the Delta variant and the social angst present in our jobs and schools and factories and offices. Things are just downright hard for a lot of folks, and I’m not sure returning to church even really makes sense to them right now. Why in the world – after putting so much on the line for their kids or community throughout the week – would they show up on a Sunday morning where the mood we often create in those spaces is about having to show up in another way that requires energy or effort? It becomes just one more energy-drain on top of a mountain full of demanding duties in their week.
And, sure, folks are bemoaning how others aren’t showing up. But, honestly, I don’t blame a lot of people for taking the time right now to just get the healing and self-care they need. Besides, my job right now is thinking more about changing the dynamics and even starting something entirely different that meets the current reality. That’s why I’m finding myself walking through each week almost with an eye to two worlds. I definitely keep an eye on the ones who show up on Sunday morning. I’m their pastor. I’ll meet them there and seek to point them to the Christ who gives us hope and direction in all moments.
But, I’m also growing intensely more interested and concerned about the ones who are too tired or worn down to get there. I’m growing intensely aware that many folks have been rowing a boat for many months, and are … well … just tired. Even the strong ones are getting tired. Even the hopeful ones are getting a bit beat down.
And they need space to talk about this. Breakfast with them is what is helping. Meeting them in their worlds is even better.
Two weeks ago, Anna and I had some friends over on an afternoon when it wasn’t yet quite scalding hot. And in that space on a Sunday afternoon something truly valuable happened that I think many people are searching for right now: a small circle of friends and space to be honest about the struggle, to be human about the frailty we are feeling.
I could finally say how worn out I was.
She could tell me how frustrated it was having to balance her work and her child and his work too.
And together we could talk about how this COVID storm has beaten down upon our hatches and busted through our defenses in our shelters.
Good people, I’m telling you, are being battered by this bad boy of a storm.
And they may or may not make it to a Sunday with me anytime soon.
And that’s okay. Because I know where they are at. They don’t need a place to show up to that is requiring to put on a posture of being okay, of acting like things are all just the same. They need a space to be open about the truth they are walking in.
They need to laugh knowing they aren’t the only ones reaching for something in our pantries or on Netflix at night just to get by.
They need space to air their frustration about having to battle just to keep their kids safe … or … on the other hand, to be a bit scandalous in their views on the vaccine.
People are just holding on in a storm.
That’s it. Just holding on.
I don’t think we can expect to act like things are normal.
There’s only so much “natural” you can pull off. There’s only so much “normal” you can pretend to keep going.
At some point, it’s okay to just admit the truth. We ain’t going back to normal anytime soon.
Probably, then, the best way to capture our moment is to think of Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away.
We all love Tom Hanks. Thank God Tom Hanks survived his scare with the virus.
But we like the pre-stranded-on-the-island Tom Hanks in Cast Away: confident, in charge, peaceable, composed. Pre-stranded-on-the-island Tom Hanks is the American Church a lot of people loved for a long time. Pre-stranded-on-the-island Tom Hanks can get order your world and tell you it will all be okay. But, folks, we ain’t going back to that Tom Hanks.
It’s better to accept that where we really are: stranded-on-the-island Tom Hanks. Most of us will feel more and more like that guy: haggard, tired, emotionally and relationally adrift, maybe even a bit unstable. Don’t think I haven’t had my Wilson moments in this past year, and don’t think there haven’t been times I haven’t been on my hands and knees screaming and crying at a relentless force pounding upon the shore and stealing things away.
So what if I encounter you out on the street, and you’re still wearing your flip-flops?
So what if you come off a little crazy on Facebook right now?
Ain’t we all just trying to make it off this island?
And, if we do emerge, it’s going to be post-stranded-on-the-island Tom Hanks. You remember that Tom Hanks, don’t you?
He doesn’t get to return to his life. He doesn’t even get to reunite with his wife.
He moves on.
Onto something new.
Onto something open.
Where he’s lost a great deal.
And learned to find new things down the road.
That’s probably as good as it’s going to get.
But, hey. I’m an optimist.