I wrote this post last year, while my husband and I were on our annual vacation. This year, we were supposed to be on a 30th anniversary celebration trip, but due to Covid-19, we are instead resting at home — not North, not South, not East, not West. Nevertheless, we have had time for rest, for recovery, and for remembering and celebrating the course we’ve been on.
Three years ago at the end of May, my husband and I retreated north, so far north that we couldn’t get a cell signal. We each brought the materials we would need to plan the courses we’d be teaching that fall. Away from the Internet and the daily routine, we found time to go for walks, take naps, eat well, and outline goals and objectives for our in-coming students.
Two years ago, we escaped south — we spent two weeks in Fort…
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On any other Memorial Day, we’d be packing up picnic baskets, putting the finishing touches on the potato salad, and donning festive red, white, and blue.
We’d be joining friends around picnic tables, under tents, next to pools.
We’d be driving to cemeteries to pay our respects, plant flags, and place flowers.
We’d be remembering those lost in wars, yes, and those we’ve lost, period.
But today, in the time of Covid, when almost 100,000 have died in the US from the Coronavirus alone over the last three months, let alone all who have died of heart failure, stroke, car accidents, cancer, violent crimes, or suicide… when gathering — even in groups no larger than ten — can bring a risk of transmission leading to even more illness or death, Memorial Day is going to look a little different.
Families who have lost loved ones in the last three months have not had the privilege of holding their loved ones’ hands as they have died. They have not gathered for funerals. They have not hugged one another and cried. They have not had a chance to grieve — to accept the reality of death. What does their Memorial Day look like this year?
The New York Times covered the front page with this image, and yet few of us can wrap our minds around the reality of — the “incalculable loss” — of nearly 100,000 deaths.
The Times ran this memorial perhaps as a way for us to remember, to conceptualize, to note, to grieve, to mourn. It’s a list of names of a fraction of those who have died complete with brief descriptions, epitaphs, if you will, that help us attach lives of real people to the numbers. People like:
Alan, Peter, Joseph, Mary, and Lorena, loved by their friends and families, despite their weaknesses and flaws, will be missed, and mourned, and remembered, so will the other thousands upon thousands, as will those who have died in the last year from all things not Covid.
I don’t know how you are remembering today — if you are indeed visiting a cemetery, if you are gathering with a few friends, if you are isolating at home, if you are doing the same thing you’ve done every single day since somewhere in the middle of March, or if you will sit in your yard, on your porch, or on your couch, quietly remembering those you have lost.
We’ve spent the weekend visiting with those we have not lost — my in-laws, my parents, and my godmother — through porch visits and phone calls, taking care not to contaminate — keeping distance, wearing masks. We have laughed, smiled, and realized that life is precious.
We taught Ken, 85, Caseville, MI, who left home at thirteen and became a millwright and a father, how to use Google Duo to videochat with his kids and grandkids. We heard Dorothy, 83, Caseville, MI, a retired second grade teacher, talk about the time she helped her two sons transport a 17-foot aluminum canoe in a Chevette.
We greeted Margaret, 90, Bay City, MI, who after working on a factory line in the ’40s and ’50s loved collecting hand-painted china and now lives a few miles away from her husband of 70 years, unable to see him since they are in separate facilities that are both sheltering their residents.
We chatted with Harold, 81, Brownsburg, IN, retired businessman, who once hitchhiked from Michigan to California to buy a vehicle after serving his time in the Marines; we laughed with Joyce, (age withheld to protect myself from harm), Brownsburg, IN, a beloved fifth-grade teacher, who’s trying to figure out how to help others with her stimulus check.
Today we’ll see Roger, 75, St. Louis, MI, a butcher turned grocery store manager turned prison shopkeeper who enjoys riding his motorcycle and golfing, and Carol, 78 St. Louis, MI, a former hospital unit secretary who has spent most of her days finding ways to show love to her children and grandchildren.
And then we’ll head home, thankful that on this Memorial Day we have no fresh grief, other than the collective groaning of our nation.
And that groaning we will hold in our hearts as we continue to isolate at home, wear our masks when we venture out, and do our part to slow the spread, to reduce the casualties, so that we (and others) can spend more days with those we have not yet lost.
For those who are freshly grieving today, I extend my heart. May you find comfort in your mourning and joy for your soul.
I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.Jeremiah 31:13
Written in July 2016, this post has something for me today. As I’m quarantining inside my home for going on two months, I have to ask myself if I’m willing to take a risk for my neighbor. I’ve heard the story of “The Good Samaritan” countless times in my fifty-plus years. You know the one, […]Have Mercy, re-visit — Next Chapter
We’re gardening today — spreading dirt and manure on the ground, raking it back and forth, making holes and troughs with our hands, and pushing tiny little seeds into the earth in the hope that they will split open and produce new life.
We’re welcoming the chance to be outside — to do something besides Zoom calls, watching television, housekeeping, or cooking.
We’ve prepared the ground — loosened the soil, coaxed out all the weeds that had sprouted since the winter thaw, and lined our little garden plot with pinwheels that will hopefully spin in the wind and deter any critters from helping themselves to whatever pops up.
We’ve purchased seeds — carrots, beets, peas, lettuce, kale, radishes, and cantaloupe — and a few plants — tomatoes and peppers. We’ve halved a few seed potatoes, donned our gloves, and gathered our tools.
We do this each year, of course — put in a small garden — because we really love the taste of fresh tomatoes, and because I just can’t get over the wonder I feel when tiny seeds split beneath the soil and push fresh life toward the sun.
We’re on our knees in the dirt and manure — spreading the filth with our hands and dropping in tiny seeds of potential.
While we are at it — dirt beneath our fingers, and sweat glistening on our brows — we’re planting red and white petunias in the beds that face campus, small flags of welcome, in the hope that instructors, staff, and students return soon.
We’ve put chairs and a small table near the garden so that we can sit and watch — sipping tea, reading books, working crosswords — and wait for the first fingers of green to break through the earth, the first humans to walk onto campus.
We’re waiting and watching for new life, rebirth, resurrection.
And isn’t that what we are all hoping for right now? Aren’t we hoping that as new life springs from the earth we’ll find new life in our days? Aren’t we hoping that when we emerge from our homes, we’ll feel refreshed, renewed, restored?
Aren’t we hoping that the funk, the fatigue, and the frustration will fall away? that the sick will be healed, the hungry will be fed, the poor will be made rich? that we’ll gather with our people, embrace, and rejoice?
I mean — yes! That’s what we hope for!
And so we get on our knees in this rich soil of possibility. We plant seeds of hope — for recovery for the sick, for employment for the jobless, for reunions of distant loved ones, for reconciliation among those divided, for a new way, a new path, a new life.
I can’t stand next my garden and shout my seeds into growing. I can’t demand that my tomato plants produce fruit. In fact, my only role is to place the seeds in the ground, water them, and wait.
I can’t demand that this virus stop spreading, that demonstrators put down their weapons, or that leaders come together in a united approach for the good of our country. I mean, I can try, but for what? My power lies only in my willingness to go to my knees, to share what I have, to encourage the lonely, to watch, and to wait.
It can feel a little powerless unless you remember that every single year when I’ve pressed tiny seeds into the earth, new life has come forth — whether I’ve been sitting next to the garden watching or have abandoned it to go on vacation. The tiniest seeds of faith have yielded fruit.
Every. Single. Year.
More so, the prayers that I have whispered, cried, and shouted from my knees have born rich fruit — miraculous answers, incredible victories, astounding reconciliations.
Time after time after time.
So, I return to what I know. I get on my knees and plant my hopes — for my garden, for our world, for our future. Then, I watch, and I wait.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Revelation 21:5
On Monday, I suggested we return to the Word of God as we try to find our way through the coronavirus crisis. I wrote this post in the fall of 2016 during another challenging time in this country — another time when I found myself returning to the Word of God for solace and guidance. […]It is Written, Re-visit — Next Chapter
When I wrote my first “Coronavirus Diary” on March 30, I could not have guessed that I would be writing a weekly series that seems to have no end. Could any of us have predicted that we would be working from home, wearing masks to the store, and zooming with our family and friends for most of the Spring?
We’ve been quarantining at home for going on eight weeks now! You might think that the time has dragged on, but my husband and I keep looking at each other and saying, “Is it Friday again already?”
Our days look mostly the same — wake up, morning routine, work, cook, walk, eat, TV, sleep, repeat.
Sure, we have other engagements. We Zoom call our families. We grocery shop (which now includes an elaborate in-processing of purchased items that takes a chunk of each Saturday). We ‘gather’ with our small community group twice each week. We take care of our dog, clean the house, and try to remember to send cards and gifts to somehow mark birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and the fact that we still care about our people even though we can’t see them.
We worry. We agonize. We pray.
Then we go to bed and get up the next day to do it again.
We don’t set long-term goals. We don’t make plans. We don’t go anywhere. Yet the time seems to be flying.
Even still, a lot can happen in the space of a week. A polar vortex can blow through. A friend can be hospitalized. A daughter can reach a milestone. A company can move from an almost expert response to a global pandemic to joining the ranks of those who have made sweeping layoffs and massive restructuring. A video of a shooting death of a man in broad daylight can circulate so widely and stir up so much outrage that a father and son who’ve been sitting freely at home for most of two months are arrested to the sounds of virtual cheering.
Thousands can protest nation-wide shutdowns. Thousands can been newly diagnosed. Thousands can recover. Thousands can die.
And we’re feeling it — all of it.
We’re edgy — quick to say a sharp word, snatch something from another, or walk away mad.
We’re raw — falling to tears and sobbing about the deaths, the uncertainty, the financial strain, the endless monotony of day after day, or the full sink of dishes. We cry because we’re tired, because we’re sick of being home, or simply because we ran out of Cheerios.
We’re angry — demanding that governments open up, complaining about the ‘idiots’ who keep congregating without wearing masks, and insisting that the person next to us would just stop chewing so loudly.
We’re doing our best to celebrate miracles — births and recoveries and job changes and college acceptances — and to mark graduations and birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.
Sometimes we can’t be bothered — we just don’t have the strength, the wherewithal, the awareness to reach out, to noice, to connect with each other, to wash our hair, or to change out of pajamas.
Yet somehow we’re figuring it out — doing our best — finding our way.
We’re finding our way by seeing the devastation and reeling from it, because that’s what you do when you are devastated — you reel. Try to brace if you like, try to harden yourself against the blow, but like it or not, when the impact hits, you’re gonna find yourself tumbling around trying to find your feet again. If you’ve been ordered home, lost your job, gotten sick, lost a loved one, or simply born witness to the losses of others, you might find yourself reeling. (If you don’t feel like like you’ve been smacked around a little bit, you might be fully in denial that almost 80,000 Americans have died, that millions have lost their jobs and are without money, food, and any sense of stability, and that none of us really knows what the next weeks or months look like.)
We’re finding our way by talking it through. When we talk on the phone, meet together on video chat, or sit next to each other in the evenings, we’re sharing the bits of news from the day, we’re asking hard questions, we telling each other that it’s hard to get out of bed, that we haven’t changed out of yoga pants since March, that we cancelled our vacation plans. We talk through the loss of a loved one, the test results, our latest cooking adventure, and the project that we’ve been working on.
We’re finding our way by reaching out. We call our parents who are weathering this ‘storm’. We touch base with our siblings more than we used to. We check in with friends and call our kids, listening to words, to tones, and to things left unsaid.
We’re finding our way by eating, sleeping, exercising, and deciding that we are going to do the next thing, even if it’s not the best thing, every. single. day.
And in the midst of all this finding our way, doing our best, and carrying on, we get tired and overwhelmed; we start to lose hope. We cry out.
Will it ever end? How long, O Lord, will you forget us forever?
Forget you? How could I? See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
You did? You did!
I did! And I’ve given you a future and a hope.
You have? You have!
I have. I will never leave you nor forsake you.
You won’t? You won’t!
Behold, I am making all things new.
You are? You are!
I am. From before the world began, I am.
That’s right. I remember.
We’re engraved on the palm of Your hand. You’ll never leave us nor forsake us. You are making all things new, from before the world began. You are.
Ok. We hear you. We do.
We’ll keep listening for your voice as we find our way.
On Monday, I wrote about what happened last weekend while we were preparing our garden for planting. This morning, I found this piece that I wrote last year — a reminder of what can happen when we dare to plant a couple seeds. For Mother’s Day, when my husband asked what I would like for […]Of Gardens and Growth, a re-visit — Next Chapter
When the sun came out this weekend and warmed the earth, we stepped outside, donned brand new gardening gloves, pulled each weed from our garden plot, trimmed last year’s death away from our irises, washed grime off our outdoor chairs, and began to see signs of promise.
We began to look forward to the next phase where we’ll push seeds into the ground — carrots and peas and beets and radishes– and when we’ll spread fresh mulch on our flower beds. Maybe this year we’ll actually find some time to plant some annuals.
Signs of new life are all over campus. Tiny green leaves have sprouted on the wild blackberries at the edge of the woods behind our yard. Peonies and tulips have broken through the soil just as the daffodils have begun to take their final bow. The rose behind our house, pruned a few weeks ago, is thick with leaves and hinting at buds.
Do I dare to walk out to check the lilac? Could he be waking up, too?
Is it possible that we’ll soon be able to move some of our hours outside? to emerge from our four-walled isolation? To touch the earth? To smell the flowers? To feel the breeze on our skin?
Soon. The weatherman says it’ll be cool with scattered showers for the next week or two. This flash of 70s and sunny was a glimpse of what’s coming — a glimmer of hope.
So we leaned in. We played 80s jams — Doobie Brothers, America, Steely Dan — and sang along as we sat loosening the weeds from the soil. We smiled as we chatted, not rushing, just happy to have our hands in the dirt, to smell the earth, to feel the sun on our faces.
And as we were working there, on our knees in our garden, an unfamiliar Buick rolled right up next to us. An elderly man opened the passenger door and stepped out — no mask, no gloves, just a Laborers for Christ baseball cap. He told us his name and said, “Twenty-five years ago I stayed in these dorms for six weeks while we remodeled them.” My husband put down his tools, stood up, and stepped closer. He reached out his now ungloved hand, saying “Thank you so much! What a difference you made! Your work is still making a difference!” He shook the man’s gnarled hand, looked him in the eye, and smiled.
The man continued on, stringing memories together, a little confused, wondering if the dining hall was open or if he could go into a residence hall. Well no, my husband said, not with the pandemic. “Oh, right, right,…” the man said, as he got back in the car that his son was driving. They turned the car around and drove away.
I guess it was a sunny day and they just needed to get outside, to go for a drive, to remember a different time, and to make sure that the work of a long time ago still mattered.
It does. Even though the residence halls are all but empty. Even though some of them are due for another round of sprucing up. Even though he couldn’t peek inside. His work still matters.
I’m glad my husband instinctively knew what this man was looking for. After weeks shut in at home, with little outside interaction, knowing that he’ll likely not walk this earth too much longer, he wanted to see if the work of his life mattered.
My instinct when my husband reached out his hand, I have to admit, was fear. I almost said, “Stop! Wait! Don’t shake hands! We’re not shaking hands right now!” Wasn’t my husband the one who just yesterday took great pains at the park to walk off the path and to wait patiently for others to pass so that we could maintain our six feet of distance? Isn’t he the one, with me, who opens each piece of mail at the door, refusing to let the outer packaging come in the house, the one who washes each purchased item, each piece of produce, before it’s allowed to sit inside our fridge?
Did he suddenly forget all the precautions we are taking?
Maybe he forgot.
Or maybe his heart noticed a greater need. One that — ever so occasionally — trumps the precautions we’ve been taking for weeks.
For weeks we’ve touched no one except our spouses and possibly our children. For weeks we’ve seen no one in physical form other than those living inside our homes and the people we strategically avoid in public spaces, delicately shifting to the other side of the path, the street, the aisle to keep our distance. We’ve had all of our interactions over the phone, Zoom, and FaceTime. We’ve stayed within our private spaces in order to slow the spread of disease, flatten the curve, and protect ourselves and others.
But sometimes after you’ve seen no one in the flesh since sometime in March, an elderly gentleman steps into your garden, wondering if in his life he made an impact, and it suddenly becomes exactly the right thing to do to reach out, shake his hand, and say, “You made a difference.”
Touching can make a difference.
We won’t be making this a practice any time soon — touching friends, family, or complete strangers who step into our garden — but for this gentleman, who needed some reassurance on a day that offered the hope of Spring, touch seemed more than appropriate. It seemed like the human and loving thing to do.
This afternoon, my husband asked if I’d seen the lilac bush near our house. I told him I hadn’t, so we walked, plucked a small sprig of blossoms, and I held them to my nose and breathed in.
They smelled like Spring; they smell like hope.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.I Thessalonians 5:11