How do we tell the story of the last year or so? One way is to focus on a series of disruptions in public health, justice, education, economics, and politics. They were earthquakes that shook our foundational confidence, and the aftershocks continue. The damage we’ve sustained makes the crucial task of rebuilding our common life daunting.
Another way of narrating the last year is to describe unrelenting sameness: hours and hours working and schooling in front of screens, evening after evening binge-watching television, a predictable circuit of trips to the grocery store, the pharmacy, and doctors’ offices, and a repeating menu of comfort foods. We’ve experienced media-induced malaise, boredom-born burnout, and limitation-imposed exhaustion.
We could talk about significant losses: of human life to both Covid-19 and violence, of trust in many political leaders, of gains toward parity in the workplace which many women had made, of proms and graduations, of wedding celebrations and Golden Anniversary gatherings, of baby showers and birthday parties, of grandparents’ hugs and passing-the-peace at church, of family reunions and community festivals, and of funerals and memorial services. We need to let ourselves name, grieve, and lament together these and other losses. Even the apparently small ones matter more than we might think.
There are also losses for which we can give thanks. Many White people have lost our often-willful ignorance of the damaging mythology of white supremacy. Others of us have lost the interlocking illusions of our independence and invulnerability. We know more fully than we have known that “I am because you are,” that what happens to “you” affects “us,” and that viruses (and most other threats to our wellbeing) don’t pass over the wealthy and strong. Giving up this ignorance and these illusions is a way of making more room for the truth that sets us free.
We also have more uniquely personal stories to recount. Our daughter kept her job in the arts(!) and made significant progress toward her and her friend’s dream of opening a new theater. Our son gladly moved back to Chicago from Boston and got engaged to a wonderful woman. Anita and I had more time together than we’ve had in decades, time that we needed and for which we give thanks. I made a meatloaf for the first time in our married life (that’s how tired I got of cooking the same things over and over). We said farewell to Ellington, our nearly 14-year old “puppy.” On my frequent walks, I’ve met more of our neighbors than I knew before.
I had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. Recovery has gone well, but it has been a longer process, not than I was told but than I hoped. My struggles with chronic pain, fatigue, and queasiness, consequences of cancer and its treatment, intensified.
I’ve had more time to reflect and to pray. In dreams and other incursions from my latent memories, I’ve relived some painful experiences, and mercy is loosening shame’s grip on me. I’ve seen more clearly the hurts I’ve caused myself and others, and grace is convincing me that I’m forgiven. I’ve seen how I’ve mistreated my body as a carrier for my mind or a container for my feelings, but pain and weakness have led me to listen more closely to the body’s healing wisdom, a healing that doesn’t depend on curing. Such mercy, grace, and wisdom are not my achievements. They are divine gifts.
For me, the collective and individual stories of this year are filled with paradoxes, the central one of which the Elder John described two millennia ago: “There is no fear in love”—which is not to say there is no fear in life—“but perfect love casts out fear.”