It’s not even 8 a.m. on the West Coast as I type this and already this day has started off with several deep conversations. The first was with a daughter dealing with the aftermath of her 2nd Covid shot. A bit of a headache and hot/cold temperature fluctuations. Yesterday, when she got her shot, we talked in the car as she waited her 15 minutes. Part of that conversation were tears of relief. If you have not yet gotten your shot, you can’t imagine the sheer sense of connection to humanity such a vaccine evokes.
Perhaps for us it’s because of a family member who suffered the impact of polio, having heard Dad’s stories of loneliness and the many surgeries he endured over the years, the years he dealt with post-polio syndrome, the special shoes he wore, the hip and back pain he pushed through, all that made us keenly aware of the difference a vaccine can make. So yes, tears of relief each time one of us is inoculated against a virus that has robbed millions of life.
They are catching a plane out of Seattle later today, my daughter and her family. Not an ideal time to fly, the day after the 2nd vaccine shot. But they are headed to yet another family gathering, this one to memorialize her father-in-law who died in the year of the pandemic. It was cancer, not Covid that took him far too young. This vibrant, energetic, dynamic geologist. The boys loved their Papa and miss him terribly.
The boys worry whenever their mother feels puny. They worry most that if she is sick they will get sick, too. This is the natural outcome for children who grow up in a time of pandemic. They think concretely at this age, and for at least 1/5th of the youngest one’s life, it’s been steeped in worry over the pandemic. He told his mom he doesn’t even like to talk to anyone outside the family for fear they will give him the virus. She has explained that won’t happen because he’s wearing his mask and socially distancing but he’s a 5-year-old who has seen a person he loved get sick and die. He knows it happens. Whenever he is sad now, he always says it’s because he misses his grandpa. I suspect that’s because that’s the deepest sadness he knows.
It’s the deepest sadness most any of us will ever know.
I told my daughter how I have been thinking of my grandmother lately, the one who died when I was only 3. I am nearly the age she was when she died. We were in the house with her when Granny Ruth died. There was no such thing as hospice in Appalachia back in the early 1960s. People died at home because they didn’t go to the doctor when they were dying. Nobody had money for doctors or hospitals. Not my kin, not then. It’s odd how I can’t remember details from last week but I can remember the moment that Mama walked into the living room and told the family gathered that Granny was gone.
I was recounting my conversation with our daughter to Tim, which lead us to discussing how odd it is to realize that no matter how much one ages, the voices inside our head, the one that talks to us moment by moment, never ages. It stays at the same age as when we really first became aware of it. For me that was age 16. For Tim it was 18. (He says that’s just further proof that girls mature faster).
It’s the classic no matter how much things change, they stay the same.
Pandemics bring out the worst in some people and the best in others. Collectively as a nation we probably haven’t grieved this much since the war in Vietnam, or the Civil Rights movement.
Talk about your weeping and gnashing of teeth. Anyone watching the Derek Chauvin trial certainly has an understanding of that sort of grief.
Some years back I attended a workshop in Seattle featuring Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the Religion department of Publisher’s Weekly, beloved author, and critical thinker of all things spiritual. In the lecture she gave that night, Tickle recounted the many changes the Church as a whole had experienced throughout history. Tickle referred to moments like the Reformation. She was sure that the Church was about to undergo another such time.
I have thought about her words often lately as I’ve been studying the Covenanters of Scotland. I recently listened to a pastor use the Covenanters of 1660 Scotland as an example of why people today should not wear masks, should not socially distance, and should not get vaccinated. With steadfast conviction, he compared those who rose up against the papal influence over the Presbyterian Church of Scotland to the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers of today.
Mostly I’ve been thinking about how easy it is for us to lose sight of one another’s humanity, and how we do it so often in the name of Jesus, and how such certainty about our choices can, and too often do cost us our very lives.
Lives that matter to our children, and our grandchildren.
As we head into another Resurrection weekend, I leave you with this thought from Phyllis Tickle: “About every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. We are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales.”
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Where’s Your Jesus Now? (Zondervan).