This year, we did Thanksgiving differently.
Like everyone else, in the ninth month of this pandemic, we just weren’t enthusiastic about shouldering one more disappointment delivered by the coronavirus. We had already cancelled our summer vacation in Maine, missed our grandson’s first birthday, missed meeting our other grandson for the first time (that was to happen on vacation), missed out on the every-decade Lambeth Conference for bishops of the Anglican Communion, had to cancel a big spring get-together for the diocese, had to re-work the fall Convention of the diocese… There’s just been so much in terms of disappointment that, really, I just didn’t want to step into a holiday that is all about family… and sit at our big dining room table with me at one end, Glenn and the other, and a chasm of missing family in the middle. No amount of creamed onions, succulent turkey drenched in gravy, scalloped oysters, cornbread stuffing or even pumpkin pie was going to fill that hole.
Now. Again- as always in this blog- I write from the place of extreme privilege and of that I am well aware. I know that having a warm house and a car and food and a job is a blessing in these times. We have been working in our house to find more ways to share the blessings of our abundance with others who are in need in this time of worldwide hardship. And I have not turned away from the daily recitation of the levels of unemployment on the news, or from greeting the people who line the streets, now, at every stop light in Harrisburg looking for donations; and I am not ignoring the anguish that fills me when I read reports of a Congress that is log jammed and can’t find its way through to extending more relief. I know our fortune, and we are responding with more. But we did less at Thanksgiving. Or, more to the point, we did it differently.
We took to the woods. We went on a hike on Thursday with backpacks full of warm sleeping bags, a tent, some food, and stuff to start a campfire. We found a clearing (we had scoped out a spot in advance) and set up camp as the sun started to slip behind the hills. We were lucky- rain had been forecast but it ended up breezy and in the mid-60s. We enjoyed a camper’s meal of instant mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey and cranberries. Plenty of carbs to power us through the night! And then, when the sun set at about 5 PM, we hung our leftovers in a tree away from the reach of any local bears, marveled at the full moon shining through the trees, banked the fire, and went to bed. Yes, it was early. We read, we talked, we listened to the absolute quiet, and later, we listened to the voice of the woods as the wind blew through the branches of the trees, an owl announced its presence, and someone’s dog, far off in the holler, barked a staccato, one-note melody. It was still. The moon cast a glow over the small clearing and, within a small radius, I had all that I needed. Not everything that I wanted, but all that I needed in that moment.
The pandemic is shaping us.
In its most cruel way, we are being shaped by grief, and loss, and the pain of an insidious disease that continues to grow and rage.
We are shaped by anger, and feelings of self-righteousness, and judgment of others who do not do exactly as we do or think that way we do.
We are shaped by fear- fear that a silent cloud of microscopic germs will find its way through our masks, onto our hands, onto the grocery-cart-gas-pump-doorhandle-of-the-pharmacy and into our bodies where it will, with great unpredictability, deliver either a scratchy cough and mild headache or a life-threatening, debilitating blow to our immune system.
And… the pandemic is shaping us into more compassionate, loving, creative, patient, and generous people.
Those of us who follow Christ, those for whom “loving our neighbors as ourselves” is a vow, not just a nice idea, are finding moments in which Christ is made more evident every day and we are led to follow him into acts of loving kindness. God is not asleep at the switch- no, God is in the hands of those preparing meals at church community dinners, in the hope and faith instilled in us by the Holy Spirit to give more generously than ever before, in the patience of parents who soothe their screen-weary student-children, and in the drive of teachers and healthcare workers who get up each day to do their jobs for the rest of us. God is so present.
And so, while I am choosing to do things differently like spending a holiday in the woods, it is also a time in which I am invited to find the enriching presence of the Divine in Every. Single. Day. as we make our way through this.
It has been called “coping” by some. I choose to think of it as living faithfully and walking in the shadow of God.
How are you moving, living, and having your being in these times?