Coming to Terms With It All

I thought I was handling this entire COVID-19 shut down thing fairly well. I finished the CSLI year one fellowship program in fine style. I’ve read twenty-two books, so far, and next week I’ll complete reading the Bible from cover to cover in ninety days. My family built and planted a garden, installed a Little Free Library in the front yard, and has plans for both bees and chickens. I’ve been doing Keto and have lost about twenty pounds, all while working and managing kids, both in school and during the rudderless summer days.

Don’t get me wrong; I have my down days, too. And there have been more of them than not lately. Being forced to stay in first gear for a few months has given me ample time to consider the fact that 142,000 people have died, often scared and alone. I’ve had to spend even more time coming to terms with the deep racial issues in this country as well the plight of people groups like the Uyghurs in China. I’ve watched as protestors in Portland have been abducted off the street, wondering what it means for our right to peacefully protest both now and in the future. I’ve listened as people tangle themselves in knots arguing against wearing a mask in public rather than simply choosing to love their neighbors by doing so and even witnessed a woman have a nervous breakdown in real time thanks to the glittering magic of social media.

Yeah, it’s been rough to say the least. However, I’m doing all this from a very privileged position. Both my husband and I are working from home, and our kids have space to continue schooling here as well. We have a solid internet connection, devices for everyone in the house, food on the table, and anything else that we need to be successful in these very strange times. But even with all that, it’s been difficult to keep my head above water some days. I cannot imagine how folks who have lost jobs or are trying to figure out childcare for the coming school year are managing.

But I haven’t cried over the last few months. Not even once. No matter how overwhelmed I’ve been or how sad I’ve felt, not a single tear has fallen from my eye. But then the dadgum Clydesdales came on.

I’ve been watching my team, the St. Louis Cardinals, play intersquad matches to get ready for the 60-game season starting at the end of this month, and since there are no commercials, the broadcast fills the time between half innings with great moments in Cardinals history, live shots of fans from around the park last season, and so forth. At least once a game, they show the horses pulling the Budweiser cart around the warning track, an Opening Day tradition in St. Louis going back to 1933 and the repeal of Prohibition. Every year, they announce this moment with great fanfare; even the players stop what they’re doing to watch the team of eight horses, along with two green-clad drivers and a Dalmatian complete a few laps around the stadium while the organist plays “Here Comes the King” and fans clap along. I look forward to seeing it (often on TV and once in person) every year. That procession meant baseball had come back and signaled the true beginning of summer for me.

But we didn’t get it this year. We haven’t gotten a lot of things. Maybe we’ll never get them again. It’s hard to say when the world seems to flip over every twenty-four hours. For the most part, I’m glad for the changes. I’m happy people have had to slow down and spend more time with their families. I’m beyond thrilled that the environment is healing because of a decrease in transportation and shipping. I think the BLM movement got a huge boost in visibility because things like baseball and bars and brunches weren’t there to distract us, to serve as a kind of Soma that numbed us to the reality of the world. Yet, still I grieve because life as we know it has unquestionably changed forever. I was able to keep a lid on it, to process everything that meant academically and logically, until I saw those massive hooves high stepping and shining ribbons flowing in the popcorn scented air.

One time while I was watching, a haiku by Kobayashi Issa came to mind:

This dewdrop world –
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet…

The poem expresses a Buddhist concept, one that espouses the world is in some sense an illusion (the word for it is maya). Like water rolling in an unknown direction on a leaf, the world is full of causes and effects, a web of choices and changes we cannot control. The dewdrop world is a dewdrop world. But that final line from Issa changes everything. Yes, the world may be somehow illusory, but that doesn’t mean it’s without longing or sorrow or tragedy. Those emotions as well as ones like joy, love, and peace are all part of the story we’re living.

Watching those horses trot was my “And yet, and yet…” moment. I can’t stop the bad things that are happening around me. I can’t even fully protect the good things I have or the people I love. I know that, but seeing a moment that has been part of my life for forty-plus years, something that brought me joy, and having it suddenly feel like an old newsreel was unsettling. I felt the sadness of the present moment in stark contrast to the simple joys of yesterday, and the difference was breathtaking. It cracked me wide open and mixed up all the thoughts and emotions I’d managed to keep neatly compartmentalized. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or bad—maybe it’s both—but I’m leaving space for it, allowing myself to feel it rather than move along to the next thing on the ol’ to do list because as Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (KJV).

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