Pandemic Thoughts: both/and

Good morning… How are you today?  Are you sleeping any better?  Taking care of yourself?  Is this “new rhythm” starting to feel manageable yet?

That’s something that has surprised me a bit, to be honest…  How quickly I can fall into new rhythms.  I’m sleeping and eating again… I’m going through a lot of flour and yeast these days.  At first I jokingly called it “panic baking,” but then I realized I was actually slipping back into something that felt familiar, from the days we lived in China.  For different reasons, our trips to the grocery store were infrequent and there were items we couldn’t find, so I began baking.  And when we came home to the USA with a newborn and to grocery stores stocked with loaves of bread and fresh tortillas and cake mixes, I stopped.  But I’ve picked it back up because it makes me realize how much I’ve missed something these last 9 years… I’ve missed a quiet, simple little life heavy on nightly walks around the neighborhood and waiting for the yeast to rise and light on the packed schedule and the impossibility of finding a night that works for everyone.

Some things about this pandemic aren’t so bad.

The time with my family.  The quieter life.  Less consumption. Less pollution. Neighbors outside, walking and waving and biking and smiling.  On Easter, we had a front-yard neighborhood gathering and I was surprised by how many people came outside to join us.  Some sat further away than others, but everyone seemed comforted by the presence of each other.  Afterwards, people lingered to chat, exchanging tips on where to find staples that seem to be caught up in the clogged wheels of the supply chain.  I have a 50 pound bag of rice.  Another neighbor had 3 dozen eggs.  We each needed what the other one had, but we are relative strangers cut from the same self-sufficient stock, made familiar only by proximity.  And a few weeks ago it might have felt weird and socially awkward to ask each other for help.

(Side story: I know this because years ago, upon my return from China where communal-living is the norm, I tried to talk an elegantly-dressed stranger in the grocery store into coming to my house to pick basil instead of buying a small bunch, because I had so much and mine was far fresher than what the store was selling.  “You don’t even have to ask!  It’s in the front yard!  Just get what you need anytime.”  She smiled politely and quickly walked away clutching her clump of wilty basil.  And it was only later, when I replayed the awkward interaction in my mind, that I realized she perhaps thought I was unwell and not just hungry for real community where our needs aren’t shameful and meant to be hidden.)

But back to the present… Sunday night I delivered a gallon-sized bag of jasmine rice to my neighbor and she sent her son down with a dozen eggs and we exchanged cell phone numbers and now we know each other’s names and I don’t think I’d hesitate to text her to see if she has a cup of sugar. And it feels like maybe the normal to which we all ache to return wasn’t that normal at all.

But some things about this pandemic are truly terrible.

Besides the obvious – death, sickness, vulnerable healthcare workers – I’m finding my heart aches for other things too… the business woes and job losses personally impacting those I love, inching ever closer to my own home.  My hair stylist and the salon she recently purchased; the waitresses and the airline attendants and the hotel cleaning ladies. The lines at food banks and the food rotting in fields. The loneliness of loved ones in senior care facilities.  The increase in child abuse since home isn’t always a safe place to be.  The economic future of our nation, as printing money and signing millions upon millions of people up for unemployment isn’t sustainable.  This nagging concern that wonders if we’ll ever really get back the liberty and freedom we so eagerly and quickly handed over.

cyclone roller coaster ride
Photo by Tim Gouw on

And so it goes – up and down and up and down.  Yesterday was sunny and today is cloudy and I guess I just want to remind you on this morning that you don’t have to pick a side.

You don’t have to be miserable or ok.  You don’t have to be concerned about the economy or concerned about human life.  You don’t have to be unafraid or brave.  You don’t have to be happy or sad.  You don’t have to be content or stir-crazy.  You don’t have to love being with your family or ready to lock them all outside.

You get to be both.

Which is to say, you get to be human.

You get to be soaking in the joy of extra time with your kids and later that same afternoon, lock yourself in the bathroom to cry because you just about lost your mind trying to help them find the right login for school.  You get to be ecstatic over the new baby birds chirping away in the front yard and find yourself weeping a few hours later after learning your grandpa is selling his beloved chickens because caring for them is too much for his 90-year-old body and you take this to mean you may never see him again.  You get to be grateful for everyone willing to make sacrifices and also question at what cost to our liberty and our economy these sacrifices are being made.

Life is never either/or.  It’s always both/and.

May we make peace with living in the messy middle and deep drink of the grace for being human we’ll find offered there by the Father who holds our sorrow and our joy, our laughter and our tears, our anxiety and our peace and makes space for it all, fitting it together in vibrant harmonies.

“So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.” (Read the whole passage from Colossians 1 in the Message)



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