I was at our church building to collect supplies for local charities. There were five of us there – all in masks and staying 6 feet apart – waiting for people to drive up with their donations. The weather was unpleasant so we were not busy.
Eventually, I wandered into the building and looked around. I walked past the coffee and tea bar. I stood at the welcome desk and studied the flyer for the Moms of Preschoolers group that never got off the ground, glanced over at the Lost & Found basket, noted the mints sitting untouched in a bowl on a table.
I walked into the Narthex and listened to the pastor record our worship service, by herself, in an empty sanctuary. I thought about walking in and sitting in the back pew. I thought it might make her feel less alone, make it easier for her to feel she was talking to someone. But I also thought it might startle her. These recorded worship services are difficult. I didn’t want to risk making her start over.
So I stood just out of view by the open door. I teared up. Hearing her in person, with her voice carrying through the sanctuary, was so much better than through my TV as I sit on my couch. I whispered Amen and Thanks Be To God in all the right places. The tears ran their course down my cheeks.
I got a glimpse in that moment – a glimpse into the hearts of the people who are so angry. The people protesting, the people believing conspiracy theories, the people harassing and even shooting others over the social distancing rules. They have lost so much. They have lost normalcy, predictability, routine, control. No wonder they prefer to believe this is a hoax or the response has been overblown. Believing such things gives them people to direct that seething anger at. It is a person or a group of people’s fault – this situation they are in. And if those people will just quit lying to everyone, we could all go back to normal. It’s overwhelming to think we won’t go back to normal.
I’m an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of person. I have been coping fairly well. I just do what’s in front of me and typically don’t spend much time thinking about what I’ve lost. I’ve just had parts of my life on pause. The first time my church did this charity drive, I teared up when I saw one of the other members who doesn’t participate in our online activities. Now that she was there in front of me, I realized just how sorely I was actually missing her.
This day, I turned away from the sanctuary as our pastor began her sermon. I walked slowly down the hall, looking at everything. The painted rocks on the patio. The wall of scholarship plaques. The stack of church cookbooks on one of the bistro tables. The notices on the bulletin board for choir, handbells, yoga. I noted the bottle of hand sanitizer near another sanctuary entrance – put there the last Sunday we worshiped together as an extra precaution.
I headed down the Sunday School hallway. None of us had bothered to turn on lights anywhere except the pastor in the sanctuary. I started to imagine my church family in the halls. Some kids running through, maybe grabbing a drink at the water fountain on their way. Adults entering their classrooms and saying good morning to me.
I opened the door to my classroom and looked around at all the seats exactly as I had left them. All of the books except the one I had taken home to teach via Zoom still sitting on the small table by my chair. I sat down. Not in just any chair – in my chair.
I looked around the room and imagined my friends all sitting in their usual seats. I shrunk back just a little bit because they all suddenly seemed too close. Would I ever be comfortable sitting in a small room with people again?
Closing my eyes, I filled the church with people. I imagined people milling in and out of the kitchen, gathering in the commons area, kids clambering over the play set. I imagined leaving my classroom to get ready for choir. I saw us all brushing past each other to get into the small storage closet that houses our gowns. I saw people joking as they gathered their music and sat down next to each other, rubbing elbows.
I imagined a typical Sunday in the life of my church. And I cried. My face crumpled, my tears soaked the mask I was still wearing, and I sucked the fabric into my mouth as I gasped for breath. I suddenly wanted it all back. I was no longer content or patient. I was crushed with tremendous and overwhelming sadness.
My church is being cautious though, and I am grateful. I’m not foolish. I know all the distancing had nothing to do with stopping the virus, only slowing it down so we aren’t overwhelmed. I know that eventually I will probably get it and, odds are, I’ll be fine. I know we can’t stay shut down forever, although I’d feel much better about reopening if more than a fraction of my town was actually following the social distancing recommendations as part of reopening.
Just like all the people refusing to wear masks and going out and about, I want my life back. I want my church back. I want my friends and my family. I want my gaming group. I want to have meetings in conference rooms at work.
But I also want to protect my elderly family and church family. I want to wait as long as I can to get this virus, because the later I get it, the more the doctors will know and the better off I’ll be. I want that for everyone. The best way for that to happen is to take it slow. To avoid hugs. To stay away from people. And that’s what I’ll do for as long as feasible.
But in that moment, as I sat in my chair in my room, and imagined my church family all around me, it felt so real. So painfully real. And I wondered, when we finally come back together, will it ever be the same again?