My brother has been without power for four days now since the storm Isaias ripped through the narrow valley in Northwestern CT in which he lives, leaving a mess of downed power lines, uprooted trees and verdant debris everywhere. My brother is a “tree guy” (fancy term: arborist) which means that in addition to living without lights, a working fridge (he tossed out the contents of his full refrigerator on day three), stove, or hot water, he has not only had to go to work each day in the middle of this mess, but he’s had to work overtime, wielding his chainsaw from a bucket loader, gently removing tree limbs from places where they don’t belong: on top of cars, roofs, and across roadways. This morning, in our daily “sibling text chat,” I suggested that we (my other brother and sister and I) could pitch in to put him up in a hotel for a few nights in a neighboring- and electricity equipped- town, and he politely declined saying, “It’s ok. We are getting used to it.”
Ugh. When I live without power- without warm water to bathe in or cold milk for my cereal or a working outlet by which to charge my laptop- it is by choice… like when I head out to the trail on a backpacking trip. But my brother is kind, quiet, and stalwart. He is the type of guy who is probably cooking something delicious on his gas grill in these days, reading by candlelight, and taking bracing, cold showers. “We are getting used to it,” he says.
He wrote that this morning after four days, the power company website says that they are “still evaluating” the situation in his town.
We are now in the fifth month of the pandemic in our region. I suppose that we could say- that we are “getting used to it.” We are “getting used to” wearing masks in stores, to staying at home, to attending video meetings and virtual church. We are “getting used to” to singing by ourselves on “mute” during Sunday worship… and we are “getting used to” to the cacophony of zoom voices praying together (It is its’ own Pentecost experience, isn’t it, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer together on “unmute” and our voices overlap and crisscross and, still, we understand the words, so deeply lodged in our hearts?) We are “getting used to” Morning Prayer or Ante-Communion instead of Holy Eucharist, to handing out wrapped sandwiches instead of welcoming guests into our parish halls for community suppers, and we are settling into a routine that, five months ago, we could have never imagined.
Sometimes, it feels like the days run together. What day is it? We missed the garbage pick-up in our neighborhood a couple of weeks ago because we got mixed up, thinking that it was Wednesday when, really, it was Thursday.
A neighbor has erected a sign in her front yard. It says, “In Memory” and then, below, she has affixed peel off numbers to indicate the number of deaths in our country due to the pandemic. Each morning I run by that sign and, just this week, the sign has changed 4 times. It now says “In Memory: 155,000.”
I pray that I’ll never “get used to” that. I pray each night for the families who have lost loved ones in this time, whose lives have been altered in such a cruel way, and whose “new normal” means an entire re-ordering of their lives without a mother, father, spouse, or, perhaps, child.
Yes, grief has its way of making the searing pain of loss soften over time- even in our grief we “get used to it.” My nighttime prayer is for gentleness and mercy, now, for those who suffer in the wake of this killing virus.
“We soldier on,” is a favorite saying of a friend of mine whose life has been full of more than his fair share of sorrow.
St. Paul tells the Philippians, “[God] has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (Phil 1:29-30).
And Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (I Cor 15: 58)
The impulse of our human condition is to adjust, to accommodate, and to “get used to it,” keeping on, and making do. It is part of our impulse to survive. But I pray that this pandemic does not dull us, does not normalize the horror of mass graves or death tolls in the hundreds of thousands, or lull us into complacency.
What are you “getting used to,” that is allowing you to move through this difficult time with your spirit intact?
And what are the woundings of your spirit that will not allow this time to be normalized?
Naming both of these places- the places where we have found a “new normal” and the places that bring pain- is important soul work for us to do, as we seek to make meaning and find our place in this altered global community. My prayers are with you.